Decade-long fight for a safer road in Te Puke

8:57 pm on 25 January 2023
Leyton and Jim Dowman are tired of their road washing out in heavy rain making some areas impassable. John Borren/Sun Media.

Leyton and Jim Dowman are tired of their road washing out in heavy rain making some areas impassable. Photo: LDR / John Borren/Sun Media.

Residents of a rural road in Te Puke have been struggling for 10 years to get safety improvements to their road.

Leyton Dowman has lived on No 3 Road for 15 years and his father Jim has been there 18. The pair said they have been actively pushing the Western Bay of Plenty District Council for changes for 10 years.

The two main issues were the width of the road and the gravel washout when it rains, Leyton said.

"It [the road] just washes out. Every time there's a good rain, that's it, we are guaranteed to have almost impassable areas."

The first 12km of No 3 Road is sealed and the rest is gravel. The Dowmans live on the gravel section along with 26 other properties.

Eighteen years ago it was in the council's five year plan to seal the road and they were still waiting, Leyton said.

"We can live with gravel road, that's not the issue. It's more this area here where it just keeps on washing out."

In bad weather both Leyton and Jim made sure they had a chainsaw and shovel in their vehicles so they could get out or back home.

Not only were there washouts but often trees fall across the road, Jim said.

The other issue the Dowmans experienced in bad weather was access to their drive. A culvert just up from their driveway blocks and overflows causing around 200mls of silt and rock to build up.

No 3 Road should be around 4.8m wide but "you'd be lucky if it was 4m" in some places, which made passing difficult when there were large trucks and the school bus, Leyton said.

"When you've got a truck and a bus and a car with a big trailer and things like that you simply can't get by each other."

With kiwifruit orchards along the road, trucks used it daily during kiwifruit season, he said.

Leyton estimates around 1 million trays of kiwifruit come from the orchards on the road.

Compounding the narrowness is a ditch and ridge on the downhill side of the road that runs along the river, which was created by the council.

Water runoff has created channels that have narrowed the road.

Water runoff has created channels that have narrowed the road. Photo: LDR / John Borren/Sun Media.

"The idea, I think, was to let the water wash down through the rocks and run away, but all it did was fill with silt over time and do nothing and it just narrowed the carriageway," Leyton said.

"Instead of having the water fall away to where it can disappear and dissipate down to the river, it gets washed over and then it just pools up and there's so much water that it just tears a hole through the road."

Asked why the ridge was created, Western Bay of Plenty District Council senior transportation engineer Calum McLean said: "Like all gravel roads, heavy rain can start to wash the road away, creating an uneven surface that's dangerous for drivers.

"We've placed some broken rock on the downhill section approaching the bridge to minimise the potential damage from heavy rain and to keep people safe."

The ditch also has some large drop offs and in one area was at least 1m deep. Leyton said you'd break an axle if a car drove into it.

"The risk to road users from hazards such as drop-offs will be assessed during the design process for the seal extension upgrade," McLean said.

"Treatments to improve safety for road users will be included in the design, where necessary."

The council planned to start construction of the road sealing and upgrade project for No. 3 Road in late 2024 - early 2025, he said.

"Part of the upcoming road sealing and upgrade will see us widen the road to a minimum of 5m."

McLean explained why the final section of the road wasn't sealed earlier.

"With a district like ours that has many unsealed roads, we have to be practical and prioritise which work is done first.

"Our records indicate that In 2005, No. 3 Road was ranked 86 on the seal extension prioritisation list meaning that 130km of road elsewhere in the district was ranked higher.

"For this reason, No 3 Road has not been included in any seal extension programme until now.

"Council currently reviews the district's seal extension delivery programme every three years."

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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