3 May 2016

Thousands have their say on Nelson road problems

10:40 am on 3 May 2016

Nelson's rush hour delays may be measured only in minutes - but the city's traffic problem is dividing residents and a big sticking point is whether to shift State Highway 6.

More than 2000 people in the region have given feedback to the government's roading authority on how they think the city's road transport system might be improved.

State Highway 6 at Rocks Rd, near Port Nelson.

Whether to shift State Highway 6 from Nelson's waterfront has been a sticking point for decades. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The investigation by the New Zealand Transport Agency is the third similar study in eight years and began last year as part of the Government's Accelerated Regional Roading Package.

The toughest part of finding a solution is the same as it has been for decades: supporters want to shift State Highway 6 off the city's waterfront and re-direct it through a lower decile neighbourhood on the city outskirts, while opponents say a new road is not needed and will probably succumb to the same fate of previous attempts to get it built.

A 2004 Environment Court decision turned down attempts to have the proposed route designated for the Southern Link, because of proximity to schools, air quality degradation and a lack of evidence that the route would improve safety and efficiency.

A string of subsequent studies came to similar conclusions, with the last one adding that the Southern Link Corridor should be protected as a future transport corridor.

State Highway 6 runs along the city's waterfront.

NZTA figures found travel delays ranged from three to seven minutes. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

NZTA insisted that was only one part of the business case currently being explored on behalf of the government to see if the project stacked up. Central regional director Raewyn Bleakley said they were pleased with the level of feedback to the current process but the content would not be known for a few more months.

"People are keen to engage and if it's going to affect where they live or work - or how they get to work, understandably they want to have their say on that," Ms Bleakley said.

NZTA figures found travel delays ranged from three to seven minutes, but a group set up to support development of a new road, Progress Nelson-Tasman said that was not an accurate reflection of reality.

Chairman Craig Dennis said reliance on traffic data had been debated for a long time.

"There's a three-minute delay in one road and seven in the other but you then multiply that up by how many users are on the road at that point in time and annualise that out, and it's a huge number," Mr Dennis said.

He said it was not a fair argument to say Nelson's problems did not compare to elsewhere, and that Auckland was paying an enormous price for poor investment in transport options and others should learn from that.

Nelson MP Nick Smith, a long-time supporter of a new road, did not accept building it might shift the problem.

"There's a need for more capacity and I don't accept that we 'don't know' what improvements we would get. What we do know is that if there is additional capacity in connecting the city and port with the wider region, that will result in smoother flow of traffic, reduced travel times, and less congestion and less pollution."

But sustainable transport lobby group Nelsust maintains the current study is nothing more than an election lolly scramble, and a total waste of money based on the outcomes of earlier studies. Spokesman Peter Olorenshaw said planning was important - if the correct facts were used.

"Their modelling is made up of all sorts of what we think are wrong assumptions over future traffic volumes. The facts on the ground are that we've had a record regional population increase in Nelson but traffic numbers are flat or declining."

Mr Olorenshaw thought NZTA would struggle to come up with a realistic case to proceed with building a new road.

"But this is an unusual business case study. Normally you'd have a gate at each of the four stages where a project can be rejected if it doesn't stack up but this one's been funded through all four stages by Cabinet so it's going to go right trough regardless of whether or not it's a sensible option."

NZTA said the next stage will fine-tune a preferred approach and investment objectives for the arterial network.

Nelson city and Port Nelson. Nelson risks becoming a port city for the neighbouring town of Richmond if the Southern Link road is not built, says MP Nick Smith.

Nelson City and Port Nelson. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

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