Wairau Valley residents worry accident is imminent on narrow, battered SH63

Wairau Valley resident Cliff Smith is concerned by the amount of traffic on Sate Highway 63 since the Kaikoura quake.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Wairau Valley resident Cliff Smith is concerned by the amount of traffic on Sate Highway 63 since the Kaikoura quake.

As heavy trucks continue to rattle the South Island's new trunkline, some residents say the "patchwork" highway is an accident waiting to happen.

The Wairau Valley township, on State Highway 63, has seen a tenfold increase in heavy vehicles since the quake, and residents say it feels like living with constant aftershocks.

Retired consulting engineer Cliff Smith said he was struggling to cope living metres from the road.

Some truck drivers have been taking their compulsory rest stops in the church car park.
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Some truck drivers have been taking their compulsory rest stops in the church car park.

"In any other country in the world it would be a B-class road," he said.

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"We're only two lanes and it's rather narrow.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges, left, and Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith inspect the condition of State Highway 63 on Tuesday.
SUPPLIED

Transport Minister Simon Bridges, left, and Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith inspect the condition of State Highway 63 on Tuesday.

"We understand that it's an emergency but it's also a very dangerous situation created by the road."

The highway formed part of the South Island's new main trunkline between Waipara and Blenheim and included SH7, 65, 6, and 63.

Part of the route shut following a fatal truck crash near Springs Junction on Wednesday.

One person died and a man in his 20s with moderate injuries was taken to Grey Base Hospital, in Greymouth, by helicopter after the accident on SH65.

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It was the potential for danger that worried Smith after his wife was almost hit by a logging truck on the highway last year.

"I just feel there's going to be a significant accident in the township," he said.

"If you go off the road you have nowhere to go, you'll be in someone's front yard."

The Church of the Good Shepherd car park had become a make-shift truck stop in the heart of the town.

Barrier rocks had been pushed aside as trucks forged their own exit over the footpath to rejoin the highway.

The result was a blind-spot for truckies and a dangerous strip of road in the middle of the township, Smith said.

"They've made their own stop-bay," he said.

A proper bay needed to be built as soon as possible to remove tired truck drivers from the road, Smith said.

Wairau Valley Residents and Ratepayers Association secretary Jenny Somerville said it was very "pot-holey" between Renwick and St Arnaud.

Somerville said she lived more than 300 metres from the road and had been disturbed by the traffic influx.

"I can still hear the trucks when they brake and I know there are some people waking up in the early hours of the morning because of the noise," she said.

Trucks hauling containers and refrigeration were much wider and heavier than the logging trucks the Wairau Valley was accustomed to, Somerville said.

The township appreciated an increase in police along the road.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges joined Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith to inspect the condition of the highway on Tuesday. 

It was a good road but not built for the kinds of traffic it was getting, Bridges said.

"I had a really good view of the damage," he said. "We get it and we are acting."

Teams were already working to repair potholes with improvements to signage and line marking planned, Bridges said.

An investment of $50 million to $100m would be allocated to the entirety of the inland route during the rebuild of SH1, Bridges said.

He expected SH63 would likely receive a significant portion of those funds.

The continual repair of potholes made the road look more like a patchwork quilt than a highway, Cliff Smith said.

A complete resurfacing of the highway would be essential should the route become a semi-permanent solution, Smith said.

Smith was concerned the traffic issues would only be exacerbated by summer tourists and harvesting over the next few months.

 - The Marlborough Express

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