The Government says it had committed millions of dollars towards making State Highway 2 north of Tauranga safer. So why the protesting?
This Sunday protesters plan to block the highway at the Wairoa Bridge to protest Government inaction and decision-making delays about the transport corridor between Bethlehem and Waihi.
SH2 follows the curve of the coast inland between those two centres, connecting the growing rural communities of Te Puna, Whakamarama, ŇĆmokoroa, Aongatete, Katikati and Athenree, stretching north towards Coromandel and Auckland (a key freight route to and from the Port of Tauranga) and south through Tauranga towards WhakatńĀne.
In 2017 the AA labelled the stretch between Tauranga and Katikati as one of New Zealand’s most dangerous and deadliest, with 18 deaths between 2012 and 2016. It had a two-star safety rating.
The $101 million of safety improvement funding committed so far applies to one end of the highway: a 42-kilometre stretch between Waihi and ŇĆmokoroa.
Nearly a year on from the Labour-led coalition Government taking office, its plans for making the other half safer remain unclear.
Another unknown was how it would approach the issue of capacity: bringing the infrastructure up to standard in the rapid growth of areas such as ŇĆmokoroa and helping commuters spend less time in their cars crawling to and from the city.
According to Fix the Bloody Road campaign spokesman Matthew Farrell, it was the unknowns and the months of continuing delays for answers that had the community boiling over into protest action.
“Of course anyone in their right mind welcomed the safety improvements, but we still have three out of four projects on ice, and every six months the decision moves out another six months.”
Farrell said the funding and work the agency had committed to was “far short” of what was needed.
It was “not realistic” for the Government to try and get rural people out of their cars, he said: highways were a necessity.
“The urgency is because we are already well behind the eight-ball, and hundreds of new homes are being built. They need to pull finger and commit some funding.”
He did not know how many people would turn up to the protest but hoped it would be enough to help mount pressure on the Government to fast-track SH2 decisions.
The NZ Transport Agency has said three projects supported by the previous Government were being entirely re-evaluated, including the Katikati bypass and Tauranga Northern Link.
The agency’s central North Island regional relationships director, Parekawhia McLean, said the evaluation work would take up to four months.
“Our teams are not just looking at tweaks but are going back to first principles to establish what the right way forward is for these corridors.”
While funding for Waihi to ŇĆmokoroa had been committed, that project was also still technically under re-evaluation to consider what additional work could be done, she said.
Asked for detail about what improvements were planned in the current plan for Waihi to ŇĆmokoroa, the agency’s portfolio manager Chris Gasson said the main activities were:
– putting in a wide centre line to help keep vehicles apart
– widening the road shoulders to give drivers more room
– installing roadside safety barriers where there are power poles, trees and deep ditches
– making 26 intersections safer.
The work was being split into 10 stages, starting from the ends and working in.
He said it did not currently include a flexible wire median barrier such as that the agency credited this week for preventing almost 40 serious crashes on SH1 south of WhangńĀrei since August 2015.
Farrell said not having a median barrier as part of the plan was “as stupid as some of the driving decisions being made on that road”.
When: this Sunday, 3pm
Where: Wairoa Bridge
Who: Fix the Bloody Road campaign supporters
Why: Pressure Government to fast-track SH2 re-evaluations.