Roads to nowhere? Wairarapa councils considering bypass options

9:05 pm on 16 October 2020

Bypass roads are serious options to ease the load on Wairarapa's creaking main streets for the three district councils.

Logging truck passing through Masterton.

Logging truck passing through Masterton. Photo: LDR / Marcus Anselm

Wairarapa has seen an upsurge in passenger journeys and heavy goods vehicles taking wood, stock, and other products to the capital's overseas ports and ferries.

State Highway 2, which rolls through the centres of Featherston, Greytown, Carterton, and Masterton, is the main arterial route to and from Wellington.

Plans to create other routes through the area are developing as the growing population in Wairarapa increases demand on the streets.

More motorists through the towns has raised concerns over safety, wear and tear, and sustainability.

According to a 2016 report by Waka Kotahi, almost 33,000 daily journeys are made between Masterton and Upper Hutt every day. More than a third are on the Masterton-Carterton "corridor".

Traffic growth accelerated in the two years running up to that report, from 2 percent to 10 percent.

Although the highway is maintained by Waka Kotahi, the planning and associated issues are being felt at district level.

Masterton District Council yesterday began lowering speed limits in the town centre, after speed bylaw changes in the district.

Bex Johnson, district councillor and chair of its town centre reference group, said she would back alternative routes for safety reasons.

"It's really difficult, to cross Chapel St, especially. And the wear and tear on the roads, as well. It would make our CBD safer."

She said she would advocate for it if people thought it was a good idea.

"Personally I would. But I'm just one voice. From a safety perspective, I know the trucks on Chapel St are worrying a lot of people."

State Highway 2, which rolls through the centres of Featherston, Greytown, Carterton, and Masterton, is the main arterial route to and from Wellington.

State Highway 2, which rolls through the centres of Featherston, Greytown, Carterton, and Masterton, is the main arterial route to and from Wellington. Photo: LDR / Marcus Anselm

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen met with Waka Kotahi officials in September over potential heavy vehicle routes.

Beijen said they were being considered as part of spatial planning, but "any plans for making this a reality will be decades in the future".

South Wairarapa District (SWDC) councillors have held discussions with retail and planning experts over the future of Greytown's popular Main St.

An older plan had raised the prospect of a heavy traffic diversion down the town's West St, but that idea never gained traction.

Greytown ward councillor Alistair Plimmer said a long-term vision for roading in the area would be developed with the community.

"Greater Wellington Council are talking in the vicinity of 200,000 people in the region in the next 30 years.

"Wairarapa's slice of that would make State Highway 2 running through our towns almost disastrous. They would be so congested.

"It makes sense to me to flag a possible new state highway route in the spatial plan. If you don't do it now, when it gets time to do it, that land will be unavailable.

"Nothing in the spatial plan will be set in stone, but you have to put these ideas out for people to think about."

Plimmer sits on the Wairarapa Road Safety Council (WRSC) with Rebecca Vergunst, Carterton's deputy mayor.

Vergunst said Carterton District Council was "always in the back of our minds" but no funding had been allocated to it.

"If a bypass was to occur it would need to be a collaborative project between the three councils and Waka Kotahi.

"There are a couple of community consultations coming up, that will touch on this and whether or not CDC should make a bypass more of a priority."

Bruce Pauling, the WRSC's manager, said bypasses would be safer but were a "nice to have" due to their expense.

Pauling said in a perfect infrastructure world, heavy transport would be diverted away from towns.

Work already done by some councils into investing billions of dollars in a by-pass route "simply doesn't stack up".

"No local council currently I suggest, would have the funds to heavily invest in this project, with more pressing issues such as water storage, old infrastructure repairs, and maintaining current levels of service.

"It always behoves local bodies to have a long term strategy, which is what their long term plan is all about, which is why a by-pass has been discussed by our councils and some potential 'paper roads' have been identified, as a possible 'blueprint' for any potential in the future."

One business owner worried a bypass could take a lot of business out of Wairarapa's CBDs.

One business owner worried a bypass could drive business out of Wairarapa's CBDs. Photo: LDR / Marcus Anselm

However, Carterton business owner Bryan Styles urged caution.

Styles, who owns and operates a motor workshop in the town, said it could take a lot of business out of Wairarapa's CBDs.

"It won't be just the logging trucks that use it. As soon as you put a bypass in, that just about signals the death of a town, I believe.

"Because people who don't need to go through town won't. It's just my personal opinion but you're between a rock and hard place, if you know what I mean."

Wairarapa's district councils are all at various stages of engagement and consultation over long-term planning.

SWDC's long term and spatial planning engagement programme is open now. Carterton and Masterton's councils will take further feedback over the course of 2020/21.

Each council's long term plan consultations are due by June 2021.

Truckies views on bypasses

First Union delegate Neil Allport is a truck driver with plenty of experience driving trucks the length and breadth of New Zealand.

Allport said similar schemes have happened in Taranaki. Hawke's Bay and Kāpiti have also seen significant road changes in recent years.

He said diversions may actually cause longer journeys.

"They're all over the place. They can be a bit of a pain in the arse if they add time to your run.

"They usually lead round the back of town, not a straight line. So by the time you've done four changes of direction and you're back on the highway, you've lost a fair bit of momentum and time.

Martinborough Transport manager Josh Hawkins said he would be happy to see bypasses away from Wairarapa towns, but felt there were greater issues on Wairarapa's road network.

"We've really got to be thinking about it the way the traffic's increased. We've got to do something about it before it too late.

"But there's got to be more urgent things to get sorted first. Like around Waingawa. But it's certainly a good idea."

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