Whakatāne roading police manager warns barriers could endanger lives

7:40 pm on 1 November 2022
The intersection of State Highway 30 and Mill Road where Whakatāne District Council has asked Waka Kotahi to include a roundabout in their plans.

The intersection of State Highway 30 and Mill Road where Whakatāne District Council has asked Waka Kotahi to include a roundabout in their plans. Photo: LDR / Diane McCarthy

Whakatāne Police have spoken out against median barriers between Whakatāne and Awakeri and say Waka Kotahi is listening, however, others feel they are not.

The New Zealand transport agency have already made the decision to install flexible wire median barriers along the centre of the road, along with roundabouts at intersections with Thornton, Te Rahu and White Pine Bush roads. All other roads off the highway will be no-right-turn intersections.

The safety measures are part of its Road to Zero campaign to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries from traffic accidents to zero and work is expected to start on them in 2024.

Eastern Bay road policing manager Sergeant Chris Howard said while he was in agreement with safety improvements to roads, the median barriers could endanger lives if they were installed without sufficient road widening.

"We go daily, out to the plains, out to Kawerau, to Te Teko, generally for life-threatening situations from a police point of view, and I know ambos and fire do too," he said.

"A 30-second delay or a minute delay, or whatever it might be for that stretch of road, in a worst-case scenario, could be a life and death situation.

Howard said he and his senior officers had met with Waka Kotahi project managers and it was clear they had not previously taken into consideration that emergency vehicles needed to be able to pass other vehicles on the highway at times.

"From a policing point of view, our concern is about our ability to get to an emergency on that stretch of road should they put the barriers in, which was something that they didn't appreciate at the time."

Howard said he was not necessarily against the barriers if they were done correctly, but roundabouts and speed reductions needed to come first.

"They need to be done in stages. The roundabouts would be great. That will slow the traffic naturally. Reducing the speed limit to 80kmh also would go a long way to reducing the crashes we are having.

"But I think if they just put the barrier in without extensive widening of the road, it's going to cause a choke point, for emergency vehicles especially."

He said the wide, slow-moving tractors used by big agricultural contractors that frequently used the road were already difficult to pass.

"I said, 'you need to engineer that road so we can get past the wider machinery should we need to'. They're going to go back and have a look at that, which is good."

Sergeant Chris Howard, Eastern Bay Road Policing Manager

Sergeant Chris Howard, Eastern Bay Road Policing Manager Photo: LDR / Supplied

However, Awakeri-based farming contractor Mark Brogden said he had two meetings with the consultants so far, in which he had tried to explain the issue of emergency vehicles being trapped behind farm machinery, among other issues, and he did not feel he was being listened to.

"The problem is they've got it set in their minds. They don't want to consider any other option. There's no working around, there's no talking about it. When 90 percent of the people in the area are against it, there should be some kind of change in the plan, but it doesn't seem to be happening."

Howard said he would like to see land from the old railway line used for road widening.

He would also like to see a roundabout at the Mill Road intersection which is not currently included in Waka Kotahi plans, something Whakatāne District Council has asked Waka Kotahi to consider.

"They can't have logging trucks going into The Hub roundabout and turning around to go into Mill Road. If they put in a barrier that's what they're going to be doing."

"There's all these sorts of things they have to look at and it's going to take a little while to iron out all of those issues. We would like a roundabout there but it's not as simple as just putting one there. They've got to realign Shaw Road and there's a lot of impact on council's budget too because the council have to front up with some of the money."

He said it was important to remember that the proposed median barriers would not begin construction until 2024.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow. We've put our point of view forward. We obviously can't say we don't want any safety improvements because we do, but we need to be practical about it."

Whakatane District Council Rangitaiki general ward councillor Wilson James

Whakatane District Council Rangitaiki general ward councillor Wilson James Photo: LDR / Supplied

Whakatāne district councillor Wilson James said he thinks Waka Kotahi needed to "be gutsy enough to front up at a public meeting" about its plans to install median barriers along State Highway 30 from Whakatāne to Awakeri.

"They're visiting people individually, but they're not actually listening to what people are saying," James said.

"Waka Kotahi's consultants, Beca, are doing individual visits to everyone, and from the sounds of things, telling people that there hadn't been much pushback about the barriers. There has been no public meeting and I haven't spoken to any neighbours who have been in support of [the barriers].

"Everyone seems to be getting told something different. It's almost as though they are trying to coerce people into it by saying that everyone else is agreeing to it, but no one is. I don't think it's right, the way that they're doing it."

He said some of these people had been contacting him asking when a public meeting was going to be held as they felt they were being fed misinformation.

Waka Kotahi is currently carrying out a consultation process that will help inform the finer details of the safety measures. It has contracted engineering consultant company Beca to carry out this work.

Waka Kotahi transport services regional manager Jo Wilton said the team was currently talking with people who had property access onto State Highway 30, or who had business operations that could be directly affected.

"We have so far had face to face conversations with almost 20 landowners, as well as with iwi, council, local businesses and other stakeholders. Feedback so far has been from a wide range of people, with many different views, all of which will help inform our final designs," she said.

One farmer, Selwyn Cleland said the consultants had told him there would be no public meeting because there was so much public anger about the median barriers.

"The consultants said, 'nah, that's not going to happen because it would be too angst. The health and safety of the people running the meeting would be at risk'. There's so much anger because no one actually wants it," Cleland said.

"It seems ridiculous that there's not going to be a public meeting about a public road. At the end of the day, we're the ones paying for it. We're the taxpayers and if we don't want something, why should we be having it.

"We're a rural community. There's a lot of farmers down this road who have land both sides and we have to get to the land two, three or four times a day, and if we've got a median barrier we've got to go all the way around the roundabout three kilometres down the road on a motorbike or on a tractor. A lot of farmers run stock across the road. It just doesn't seem to make logical sense."

James said he had spoken with five farmers who had land on both sides of the road and would be affected in this way.

"But its not just the people along the road that will be affected. It will affect every road user including emergency vehicles," he said.

"I've driven tractors up and down the main road there and you're fully aware that you've got quite a queue of traffic behind you. No one wants to be holding up anyone else unduly but if there's a median barrier there you're definitely going to be holding people up. No one wants to see accidents but, at the same time, it's got to be practical."

Diagram showing Waka Kotahi proposed safety improvements to State Highway 30 Whakatāne to Awakeri

Diagram showing Waka Kotahi proposed safety improvements to State Highway 30 Whakatāne to Awakeri Photo: LDR/ Waka Kotahi

Wilton said public drop-in sessions would be held early next year where those who hadn't had face-to-face time with the project team, could do so, learn more about the proposed safety improvements and express their feedback.

Asked whether there would also be a public meeting where interested parties could all be spoken to at the same time, the answer was that "a drop-in session is a public meeting".

"But rather than a seated event where someone takes questions from the floor, there will be multiple people from the project team available to answer individual or group questions and receive feedback, while directly interacting with the community. Our experience is that this results in much more meaningful dialogue, and a better turn-out, as people can choose when they arrive at a time that suits within an extended window on an afternoon-evening."

Brogden said he had also heard that the consultants had told people that others in the community were "coming around to the idea".

"Everyone knows everyone in our area and people are talking. Everyone I've spoken to is still against it. I called them out about it when I saw them but they didn't have much to say. The woman from Beca was rather quiet about it."

He said a town meeting with Waka Kotahi where everyone could hear what everyone else had to say was a good idea.

"I put that to them and they didn't think that was necessary because all they were going to get was abuse. I said to them, 'if all you're going to get is abuse, then what does that tell you'."

He said a big concern for him is that there seemed to be no, or very minimal, road works happening on the highway.

"Now, wouldn't you think, if you were trying to minimise accidents, you'd try fixing the road to start with?"

Wilton said details about public drop in sessions will be advertised.

If anyone had any questions about the project they could email bopprojects@nzta.govt.nz or visit www.nzta.govt.nz/sh30a2w for more information or sign up to receive project updates.

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