Roading leaders challenge potential new 80km/h state highway speed limit

5:27 pm on 13 January 2022

The 100km/h speed limit on Northland's state highway network could soon be cut to 80km/h - in the biggest main road speeds change in the region for almost 40 years.

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State Highway 1 south of Whangārei. Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Tania White

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is looking to permanently slash the speed limit from 100km/h to 80km/h across most of Northland's 880km of state highway - as part of Road to Zero, a national safety campaign to reduce road accidents and deaths.

New Zealand's national speed limit was raised from 80km/h to 100km/h in July 1986. It had been at 80km/h for 13 years before then - after being reduced to that speed in December 1973 as a fuel saving measure.

But some Northland roading leaders are warning a blanket approach is not the best way to address the problem. And they are warning slashing mandatory speed limits must not be used as an excuse to put less government money into Northland state highways safety improvements.

"I think Northlanders will be absolutely outraged," Ann Court, Northland Regional Transport Committee (RTC) member and Far North deputy mayor said.

Far North District councillor Ann Court, of Waipapa, with her 900cc Triumph Bonneville T100. 4 April 2019 Northern Advocate Photograph by Peter de Graaf

Deputy mayor and keen motorcyclist Ann Court is not impressed with a potential blanket speed limit reduction for Northland's state highway network. Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Peter de Graaf

Speed reduction is in the spotlight for all or large high-risk chunks of Northland's State Highways 1, 10, 11,12,14 and 15. Formal Waka Kotahi public consultation on the Northland proposal begins next month.

"You can't just arbitrarily reduce to 80km/h across the whole region. Every Northland road death is a tragedy. However, people will still not drive to the conditions or within the speed limit, whether it's 100 or 80," Court said.

Waka Kotahi speed reviews are being done on specific high-risk state highways throughout New Zealand as part of its Road to Zero campaign to reduce national roading deaths and serious injuries by 40 percent over the next decade.

But Northland is the only New Zealand region with all its state highways being considered, Court said. "I am not opposed to speed limit reductions where they are justified, but a blanket 80km/h across Northland in lieu of road safety improvements is punitive," Court said.

"It would be ridiculous for example to have to drive at 80km/h on the Waipū straights," Court said.

She said localised state highway speed reductions, where there was clearly a justification, should instead be adopted if needed.

Waka Kotahi was to be briefing RTC members on its speed review proposal on today, ahead of the public consultation.

"...we can all accept that lowering the speed limit does reduce the road toll, but I am concerned about this being taken in isolation from a significant number of other considerations...," Court said.

One of these was an economic impact report that needed to be done before anything was put in place, she said.

Concern over govt funds for roading

Meanwhile, RTC member and Kaipara District Councillor David Wills said his council did not want to see any speed limit cut compromising government roading spend into Northland.

"It costs less to engineer a road for an 80km/h speed limit than it does to do so for 100km/h. It's a cheaper option to reduce the speeds than to maintain high risk roads to avoid serious injury and death," Wills said.

Other solutions existed such as actually fixing the highways and making them safer, he said.

State Highway 1, Brynderwyn Hills, Covid Delta level 3 Northland.
13 October 2021 Northern Advocate photograph by Michael Cunningham
NAG 18Oct21 - 
WGP 29Oct21 - SH1, at the Brynderwyn Hills in Northland. The area could take some weeks to get its Covid vaccinations up. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Major road safety improvements including barriers in the centre of the road have transformed SH1 travelling safety on the northern side of the Brynderwyns. Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Michael Cunningham

Steve Mutton, Waka Kotahi director regional relationships (upper North Island) said the Road to Zero campaign premise was that mistakes were inevitable when it came to people driving, but deaths and serious injuries were not.

Initial Far North feedback to the roading authority last year helped develop the Northland speed review proposal that is soon to go out for people to have their say.

Mutton said safety for schoolchildren and those who walked and rode bikes on state highways was among major concerns. Others included road maintenance, passing opportunities, driver behaviour and speed limit enforcement.

He said speed management and spending on road safety infrastructure was among the main ways of addressing these concerns.

Wills said KDC was concerned about any suggestion of a blanket 80km/h approach on state highways in its district.

The Northland high-risk state highway speed limit cuts are proposed as part of a Waka Kotahi Northland - north-west Auckland project covering:

  • SH1 from Pukenui to Kaitāia and Kawakawa to Whangārei then south to Northland's boundary with Auckland - and from there the boundary south through to Warkworth
  • SH10 Pākaraka tō Taipā
  • SH11 Kawakawa to Paihia
  • SH12 from Kaikohe west then south to Brynderwyn
  • SH14 Whangārei to Dargaville as well as SH15 through Mangakahia between SH1 near Kaikohe and Otaika.
  • Outside Tai Tokerau SH16 - the major alternate route into and out of Northland - between Wellsford to Waimauku near Helensville.

Waka Kotahi reduced the speed SH1 limit between Kawakawa and Moerewa from 100km/h to 80km/h last August.

A collection of road signs at a spot on State Highway 12, alongside the Northern Wairoa River in Dargaville. 9 June 2020 Northern Advocate photograph by Tania Whyte

Kaipara's SH12 heads into Dargaville from Waipoua Forest and beyond. Photo: LDR / Northern Advocate / Tania White

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