December 15, 2016 / 12:05 AM / 8 months ago

NZ to spend around $1.4 bln on rebuilding key transport links after quake

WELLINGTON, Dec 15 (Reuters) - New Zealand's government said on Thursday it would spend around NZ$2 billion ($1.42 billion) rebuilding road and railway links to the tourist resort of Kaikoura, after the South Island's main transport artery was wiped out in a deadly earthquake last month.

Tour operators and hotels in Kaikoura have said they are struggling to survive as blocked roads keep would-be visitors from using the town of 2,000 as a base for trips to watch whales, dolphins and seals.

The government plans to pass rules to speed up road repair, but it will still take 12 months to get limited access along the coastal road, transport minister Simon Bridges said in an emailed statement.

He added that the government was committed to getting the region "back on its feet".

Kaikoura is at the forefront of fallout from the Nov. 14 quake, which New Zealand's central bank has initially estimated will cost the NZ$250 billion economy up to NZ$8 billion.

Alternative emergency routes have been set up to provide residents access to and from the town.

The government also said on Thursday that it would provide NZ$5 million to repair Kaikoura's harbour so fishing and whale watching vessels could access the land more easily.

The seabed had risen up to 2 metres during the quake, meaning tourist boats could only reach the shore for two hours a day during high tide and fishing vessels were completely cut off.

The government has also been forced to slash its 2016/17 budget surplus estimate by more than a third to NZ$473 million due to costs related to the quake.

$1 = 1.4053 New Zealand dollars Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Joseph Radford

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