Between Rocks Rd and a hard place

Last updated 13:00 07/11/2012

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OPINION:  The road around Nelson's waterfront is paved with good intentions.

Unfortunately, there are also potholes of confusion and politicking that mar the way forward.

The 3.7-kilometre stretch of Rocks Rd is one of the country's most scenic urban routes, framed by cliffs and the sea.

As part of State Highway 6, the road is the responsibility of the New Zealand Transport Agency.

Some see that as a blessing for Nelson ratepayers, given the expense of maintaining it and the $1 million of cliff stabilisation work required after the flooding last December.

But it also means the Nelson City Council does not have the final say over its future use.

The council and NZTA have trumpeted a joint project to rejuvenate the route as a scenic boulevard for pedestrians and cyclists, and understandably so given its picture postcard location.

The project will cost $6m, mostly funded from government regional roading coffers, with a council contribution.

The multi-million dollar question is how the detailed study for the project will come up with a solution to accommodate everyone.

Somehow you have to fit enhanced pedestrian and cycle options into an already narrow thoroughfare, while at the same time coping with more traffic, including heavy vehicles going to the port, as well as parking and access to residents' properties.

There is also the impact on the route's heritage-listed chain fence, with suggestions it could be shifted.

NZTA says one option being looked at in the study is creating a third lane, or clearway, to ease peak traffic flows along Rocks Rd. That is despite the council's clear rejection last year - following community opposition and a comprehensive investigation - of a third lane option.

Enter the politics. Mayor Aldo Miccio has tried to paint the inclusion of the third lane option in the study as nothing new. Councillor Rachel Reese, who is likely to again challenge Mr Miccio for the mayoralty at next year's elections, has painted it as a test of good faith, given the council's strong stand against it.

NZTA's regional director Jenny Chetwynd has been at pains to point out that no third lane is planned. She has also recognised the council's opposition to it and says the study's recommendations will be shared with the council and the people of Nelson. The question has to be asked: Why bother to include it in the study at all?

The answer, apparently, is that it would be a "lost opportunity" not to explore all the options.

But then, what happens if a third lane emerges as a strong solution to coping with Rocks Rd's growing traffic volumes that are inevitable as the alternative southern link route remains stalled?

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As the owner and the funder, surely it will ultimately be NZTA's call.

The authorities are caught between cliffs and a hard place over Rocks Rd.

We can only hope the boulevard study will come up with some innovative solutions. In the absence of an alternative route it will need them.

- The Nelson Mail

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