20 Apr 2021

Frustration as NZTA delay fixing 'dangerous' SH3 intersections

9:33 am on 20 April 2021

New Plymouth Mayor Neil Holdom has joined the chorus of local-body politicians bemoaning Waka Kotahi's commitment to delivering road safety projects.

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom.

Neil Holdom. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Holdom said people were dying on State Highway 3 while the transport agency replaced its original plans with what he called "half-arsed" alternatives, cutting millions of dollars off the budget in the process.

Since July 2015 seven people have been killed on State Highway 3 between Waitara and New Plymouth, and 27 have been seriously injured.

A toll with an estimated social cost of $43.3 million, according to the New Plymouth District Council's submission to the 2021 Regional Land Transport Plan.

Holdom said there was genuine excitement about plans for the stretch of road when they were first aired in 2015.

"It represented about a $40m investment dealing with four or five intersections between Waitara and Bell Block where 11 people had lost their lives over the last decade.

"And the community were really excited about it. There was a budget and the minister of transport was supporting it and they've done nothing since then."

Holdom said that budget had now been slashed to about $29m.

"So through an updated plan we're seeing - one, the budget seems to be reduced, and then we've had feedback that instead of doing the designs that they consulted with the community on three times, they are now looking at some sort of half-arsed compromise that is significantly reducing the size of the roundabouts, down-specing the whole thing.

"And essentially this is about safety and this about people's lives."

Holdom questioned what Waka Kotahi actually did.

"If you look at Waka Kotahi's last plan, that they did three years ago, they've done nothing that was in the plan.

"So we've got to ask the question: are they even capable of delivering what they say they are going to deliver and if they are not, why not and what is it that they are doing?"

He said the central government took a lot of money out of Taranaki but the region was not a high priority when it came to investing in state highways.

Waitara community board member Trevor Dodunski understood all too well how devastating a serious accident could be.

He was involved in a smash a little further north on SH3.

"My whole life changed from there on in so any accident is just a waste of a life, really. It ruined my life. I woke up and I didn't even know who my kids were, who my wife was.

"The trauma with head injuries gets worse as you get older and I expect I'll deteriorate in the next few years."

Trevor Dodunski

Trevor Dodunski at the Princess Street and SH3 intersection at Waitara. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Dodunski said he had seen too many near misses at Waitara junctions with the highway.

"The roads here are dangerous. You take your life in your hands when you come up to the intersection.

"This here is an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen and it's always been like that, Princess Street. We need an underpass here and a proper roundabout."

He said the lack of progress on road safety improvements between Waitara and New Plymouth was shocking.

"It's an absolute disgrace. I mean you go down south of Hawera and the roads are beautiful."

In a statement, Waka Kotahi infrastructure delivery acting national manager Rod James said infrastructure issues and associated costs meant it would take years to progress earlier plans for the road.

"We recognise the importance of this work and appreciate the concerns around the delivery timeframes.

"To deliver improvements earlier we have been re-looking at the initial concepts to see how we can reduce land and stormwater requirements without sacrificing safety or the ability to support residential growth in the area."

James said the initial $43, budget was only ever a ballpark figure.

"The $43, was an initial indicative estimate included by the Waka Kotahi in the Regional Land Transport Plan at the time.

"It is likely we will need to apply for further funding for this project once the design is complete and we have a more accurate understanding of construction costs, as is our usual process."

He said the agency had set aside $29, in the 2018-2021 plan of which only about $2, had been spent.

It had made initial safety improvements and following public consultation reduced the speed limit to 80km/h.

Most Waitara locals want to see a lot more done - and quickly.

Ray was not impressed with progress.

"I think it is an absolute disgrace they haven't got this roundabout done. It should've been done long ago."

Arty had a similar point of view.

"It's piss poor. I mean what was proposed originally was for the future. Now we're taking a step back and they're looking backwards. And all our bloody money is going to Auckland."

Anne said it was personal to Waitara residents.

"It's very disappointing because we've had a lot of accidents up here and we've had two or three close people in our community that have been killed and we've got to get the roundabouts."

Waka Kotahi said it hoped to confirm its revised plans for roundabouts in July and how long it would take to build them.

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