Highway changes irk users

Waitara residents Phill Dravitski, left, and Wayne Dougan are unhappy that the passing lanes on the hill of Big Jim's Garden Cafe on SH3 have been reduced to one lane.
Waitara residents Phill Dravitski, left, and Wayne Dougan are unhappy that the passing lanes on the hill of Big Jim's Garden Cafe on SH3 have been reduced to one lane.

Changes to improve safety on a notoriously dangerous section of State Highway 3 could backfire and cause more chaos, road-users say.

Speeds on the stretch of SH3, between Mangati Rd in Bell Block and Mahoetahi Rd, near Brixton, have been reduced to 80kmh and two passing lanes along the route have been shut.

The decision to put the temporary changes in place before Christmas was made by the New Zealand Transport Agency and the police.

However, consultation with the community and stakeholders would be carried out before any verdict on their permanency.

NZTA statistics show since 2008 there have been three fatalities, 12 serious injuries and 56 minor injuries on the stretch of road.

David McGonigal, regional highways manager, said the changes were temporary at this stage and the agency was keen to hear what the public had to say.

"Extensive research tells us that passing lanes are seldom effective when lower speed limits are in place, as they encourage people to speed up, which is counterproductive to the need to bring speeds down," Mr McGonigal said. "For this reason, passing lanes in areas that have a speed limit of under 100kmh are few and far between."

Waitara resident Wayne Dougan said he could understand the speed reduction but was annoyed at the removal of the passing lanes.

"It's just ridiculous getting rid of those passing lanes, it's like putting a band-aid on something that needs a better fix," Mr Dougan said.

He said the highway was used by large, slow-moving vehicles and motorists were already getting frustrated as traffic was backed up behind them.

"There is nowhere for a slow moving vehicle to pull over safely."

Mr Dougan feared the loss of safe opportunities to pass could result in further tragedies.

"People take chances. You can already see that people are looking for ways past," he said.

Phill Dravitski, of Waitara, echoed the concerns. "I think it [the speed reduction] is a bit over the top but you can handle it, but you can't handle the loss of the passing lanes."

Mr Dougan and Mr Dravitski were both keen to have their say during the consultation.

Evan Shoemark, of Waiwhakaiho, said there was no way anyone pulling out of the nursery at the bottom of the hill had time to accelerate to 80kmh.

"There is no way that they are going to get going fast enough so that everyone else isn't going to have to slow down for them," Mr Shoemark said. "You are forcing everyone else to slow down. The speed has been reduced but if someone pulls out in front of them it's down to 30kmh."

He believed installing roundabouts at the major intersections along the stretch of highway would be a better option.

"It's a brilliant way to slow down traffic. They work really well; they slow you down enough that you have to pay attention to what is going on but they don't bring you to a complete stop."

Mr McGonigal said the agency wanted to send a single, clear message to drivers using the highway.

"We need to bring speeds down or more people will be killed or seriously injured," he said.

"We know that reducing the speed limit on this stretch will make the highway safer and help to prevent deaths and serious injuries, and we make no apologies for taking action."

Mr McGonigal said 80kmh was a maximum speed, not a target, and drivers should never exceed it.

Feedback on the changes should be sent to hno-pn@nzta.govt.nz or mailed to NZ Transport Agency, PO Box 1947, Palmerston North 4440 and should be headed "Speed Limit North of New Plymouth".

Taranaki Daily News