Remote state highway needs $8m upgrade, report says
It is "essential" that one of New Zealand's most remote, and most popular, tourist roads is fully sealed at a cost of millions of dollars, a consultants' report has concluded.
Upgrading State Highway 43, also known as the Forgotten World Highway, would save millions of dollars in crash costs and help tourism reach its full potential, the report commissioned by the Taranaki Regional Council (TRC) found.
State Highway 43 connects Taumarunui and Stratford but a 12 kilometre section through the Tangarakau Gorge is still a gravel surface.
A report by Abley Transportation Consultants said it was essential for the road to be fully sealed at a cost of $8 million.
The report also called for the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) to undertake urgent safety improvements, including better signage and road markings.
"A relatively small investment in safety could result in savings of $7 million in crash costs," it said.
It also said the NZTA had cut its spending on the road from $1.2 million in 2010/2011 to $500,000 in 2015/2016.
"Such improvements are vital if promising new tourism initiatives in Taranaki and Ruapehu District are to realise their full potential," it said.
The debate on whether to seal the road has been going on for decades, with some saying it is vital to boost tourism in the region while others argue increased traffic will take away the remote area's unique appeal.
Of the 17 submissions received on the topic by the Stratford District Council (SDC) earlier this year, 12 were supportive of sealing the road while the other five said it should remain gravel while being maintained to a higher standard.
Michael Self, a keen motorcyclist and a member of the Rural Riders motorcycle group, said it was his personal opinion that the road should remain unsealed as it was something unique that most other roads didn't have.
"It's just something a little bit special," he said.
Shona Gower said sealing it would make the road safer.
"We'd have less tourists driving in the middle of the road," she said.
"It will never be fast because of the corners."
A fact sheet compiled by David Walter, the former chairperson of the Stratford County, former mayor of the SDC and former chairman of the TRC, showed the sealing work had been promised a number of times since the 1990s, but each time it had been deferred or cancelled for various reasons.
Walter, who pushed strongly for the road to be sealed, said it was important for the region's tourism to have a direct link to State Highway 1.
"Taranaki is one if not the only region in New Zealand without a direct sealed link to SH 1," he said.
"And SH 43 is one of the very few highways still with an unsealed section."
Taranaki Regional Councillor Craig Williamson, who chairs the Regional Transport Committee said the highway in its current state was not adequate.
"We've sent the findings of this investigation to the Government and told them that though this route may be called the Forgotten World Highway, it cannot remain forgotten by them," he said.
"The Taranaki Region and Ruapehu District speak with one voice on this. It's essential to take Taranaki forward."
Stratford Mayor Neil Volzke, who has pushed strongly for improvements along the route and brought up the issue during Prime Minister Bill English's visit in June, said local communities had long been calling for improvements to the route.
"The current state of the highway makes it a barrier to progress, rather than an asset," he said.
"There has been a recent history of lack of maintenance, and the unsealed portion is a major deterrent for motorists who travel the highway. It needs to be better and safer."
Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron said that like Taranaki, his district was making a concerted effort to improve facilities and attractions for tourists.
"The current state of SH43 is a major constraint," he said. "This new report offers plenty of evidence."
Taranaki's Regional Transport Committee will consider including aspects of the report in the Regional Land Transport Plan, which is currently under review, and a copy of the report has been sent to Minister of Transport Simon Bridges.