Underpass at Clyde sought to link trail

A crossing linking the rail trail to Clyde is not only dangerous but also hurting potential economic gains, Otago Central Rail Trail Trust chair Kate Wilson says.

The trust is making renewed calls to the Government, NZ Transport Authority and Central Otago District Council to consider giving priority to an underpass of State Highway 8 at Clyde.

Plans for a pedestrian and cycle underpass were thwarted at a district council meeting in December, when councillors were told NZTA funding for the project was unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Wilson said the rail trail was increasingly popular but the trust was concerned some economic benefits were not being realised because of the way the highway disconnected Clyde township from the start of the trail.

"It is the trust view that the Clyde railway station in the township is really the start of the trail and they are keen to put a new stamp for their passport there. But while crossing is dangerous, they do not want to encourage weary or unpractised cyclists to cross at such a busy and fast highway."

The trust was also aware the trail provided a generally safe connection between Clyde and Alexandra for a community that promoted itself as a cycling destination.

"However, again the safety issue of the highway precludes promotion as the safest route. The trust has been told that anecdotally better connectivity for schoolchildren would also be a benefit of an underpass.

"I have heard that there are doubts as to the benefit-cost ratios for the project, but we haven't seen the analysis. We question the costs of a serious accident off the rail trail to the perception of rail trails and want to pre-empt that situation arising by providing a safe alternative."

The trust had written to Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean, would raise the matter again with the district council through an Annual Plan submission, was writing to NZTA, and working with Clyde community groups as well, she said.

NZTA Otago-Southland highway manager Ian Duncan said extensive consultation was undertaken with the local residents and Vincent Community Board in 2010 on two options for the location of an underpass connecting the Otago Rail Trail with Clyde. As a result of that consultation, an underpass at the present location of the highway crossing was preferred by the community.

"Further work was done to refine the design and reduce the costs. Unfortunately, the project still did not meet the criteria that would enable funding to be allocated for its detailed design and construction.

"At the same time, the project was discussed with district council staff and, whilst all parties agreed that the underpass would be beneficial, a source of funding couldn't be found. The project is competing for funding with many other walking and cycling projects from around the country."

The existing crossing of SH8 at the end of the Otago Rail Trail had good visibility and there was not a history of crashes at this site, he said.

"However, the Transport Agency is happy to continue discussions on the project with the district council to look for opportunities to review it."

Waitaki MP Dean felt the underpass was a "wonderful idea".

"I have written to NZTA to find out what their intentions are for that corner. I support the trust in its effort to make the trail even safer. The trust is absolutely right to continue to endeavour to make the ride as safe as possible. A lot stands and falls on our record of safety and the last thing we want to see is a visitor suffer an accident while on our trails."

The Southland Times