Yesterday's announcement that a temporary 80kmh speed limit is to be introduced along a 4.4 kilometre section of highway between Bell Block and Waitara should not be seen as any real criticism of the driving skills of Taranaki motorists, but more an indictment of the standard of our northern highway link.
It really is in poor condition. If motorists are heading north along SH3, once they move off the Bell Block Bypass they then have to negotiate their way along what has to rate as one of the worst sections of single-carriage provincial highway in the country.
It might be reasonably straight, but the road surface itself is so bad it gives both steering and suspensions a real workout and requires concentration from those behind the wheels of their vehicles.
Not only that, but the highway also encounters some really dangerous intersections, not the least Mangati Rd as it bypasses urban Bell Block, the turnoff to and from SH3A at Brixton, and notorious Airport Drive - surely the hairiest exit from a busy airport in the country.
So it is without doubt a tricky section of highway.
But as it has done in many other parts of the country, the New Zealand Transport Agency has responded to the issue not by improving the road itself, but by lowering the open-road speed limit and closing two sets of passing lanes.
The agency adds that introduction of the 80kmh limit between Mangati Rd and Mahoetahi Rd is a temporary measure, but you can almost guarantee it will become permanent.
All this means that what North Taranaki will have now is a mish-mash of different speed limits along that section of SH3 between New Plymouth and Waitara.
When the the new 80kmh section is introduced, and it will happen before Christmas, there will be various short sections of highway with 50kmh, 70kmh, 80kmh and 100kmh speed limits.
And, the police warn they are going to be active in the enforcement of these limits.
Already locals who regularly drive that section of highway are critical of this, arguing that there should be one speed limit for the entire area.
And significantly they don't mind if it is all 80kmh, obviously because they have personal experience of just how dangerous this piece of road can be.
Longer term, the obvious solution to all of this is for the NZTA to get stuck in and improve SH3 between Bell Block and Waitara.
The authority admits the road is officially considered to have a high collective risk for drivers, and it also knows that the Mangati Rd intersection is among the 20 worst-performing intersections in the country in terms of crashes.
The permanent solution to that is to change things. Only that way can SH3 out of New Plymouth be an efficient and safe section of highway that can be traversed by vehicles at the proper open road speed limit - and that's 100kmh, not a dawdling 80kmh.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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