2 Jun 2020

Traffic light glitch, poor driver behaviour blamed for Awakino gridlock

6:28 pm on 2 June 2020

A short phasing traffic light at road works is being blamed for holding up hundreds of holidaymakers in gridlock in the Awakino Gorge on State Highway 3 in Taranaki yesterday.

Taffic jam on highway during peak or rush hour.

Photo: 123RF

The Transport Agency said poor behaviour from motorists running red lights compounded the problem.

Cindy Werner and her family were travelling home to Taranaki from Taupō when they struck bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Awakino Gorge.

She did not see anyone run a red light at roadworks but was suspicious that the traffic lights were not working properly.

"There were three sets of lights and unfortunately they weren't timed [properly] so people coming one way ... there just wasn't enough time for all the cars to get past so that people going the other way could get by, so we just got stuck for about an hour and a half."

Police issued an alert at 3pm warning of delays in Awakino Gorge because of faulty traffic lights.

Werner said if contractors had been on site - in anticipation of the long-weekend traffic - the gridlock could have been avoided, faulty lights or not.

Werner was happy to see the upside of the delay.

"We jumped out and had a little chat. Somebody asked if we had a BBQ but we didn't and we saw some people dancing along the side of the road. Everybody was quite happy, nobody was getting really upset about the situation, but it was a long wait."

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom, like many others, was today under the impression poorly behaved drivers caused the jam.

"My understanding is that some people bucked the trend and have run red lights and caused major congestion and so that is a concern.

"One, people have got to understand it's pretty hard to back up a 50 tonne truck on a winding state highway and, two, it is just a sign we need to get on and get these works done as soon as possible."

Holdom was reluctant to blame the Transport Agency.

"It is safe to assume, as a transport operator, that people understand that a red light means stop and if people want to ignore that and cause problems I don't think you can turn around and say ... I mean having a person there would have stopped that for sure, but I don't think that it is something we've seen before and it's not something they should've expected."

Holdom was confident that, despite the delays, travellers visiting Taranaki for the first time would not be put off returning.

The Transport Agency is investing hundreds of millions into upgrading SH3, including building a $30 million bypass at the Awakino Tunnel.

In a statement, acting portfolio delivery manager Jo Wilton said there were four sets of signals controlling different projects through the Awakino Gorge operating independently from each other.

"The project teams identified increasing delays due to queuing through Awakino Gorge from midday on Monday and crews were deployed from New Plymouth to assist with managing traffic through the Awakino Gorge.

"Early investigations indicate one set of signals may have been short phasing for northbound traffic, which was compounded by poor driver behaviour ignoring signals."

Wilton said that due to driver behaviour and the volume of traffic it took until about 5.30pm for traffic to clear.

"We understand the delay would have been frustrating and appreciate the patience of the vast majority of motorists who travelled through the Awakino Gorge yesterday."

Wilton said the volume of long weekend traffic was predicted, but the agency had not had problems managing it in the past.

The Transport Agency would be investigating the incident to see if there was anything to be learned that would prevent it from happening again, she said.

The Transport Agency had another incident causing delays on its hands in Taranaki this morning.

A truck transporting a 64m-long wind turbine blade - destined for the Waipipi wind farm near Waverly - toppled over on the outskirts of Ōkato on SH45.