When I bought my house in Welcome Bay in October 2016, a real estate agent who was trying to sell me a house across town just laughed. “I thought you were trying to get away from traffic,” she said.
And before you start rolling your eyes and saying ‘I bet she's another bloody JAFA' - yes, I am. You didn't really think you were going to keep the Bay lifestyle a secret forever, did you?
At the time I scoffed. I knew the morning commute into the city from Welcome Bay was busy, but nowhere near the scale of Auckland's traffic.
Along with thousands of other Welcome Bay residents I've had to endure a long, tortuous commute to work over the past few weeks – very reminiscent of the Auckland traffic I escaped from.
The Welcome Bay Noticeboard on Facebook has been going nuts.
Where has all the traffic come from all of a sudden? Have thousands of new people suddenly moved to Welcome Bay? Has confusion over school bus arrangements for 2018 meant more parents are driving their kids to school?
Tauranga City councillor and Welcome Bay resident of 42 years, Bill Grainger, says the construction of the New Zealand Transport Agency's Baypark to Bayfair Link project is diverting additional traffic to the 15th Avenue/Turret Road area, in turn causing a backlog on the Welcome Bay roundabout.
That project is not expected to be finished until 2020. Great. Only two more years of early morning traffic snarl-ups.
What about the Maungatapu Underpass, due for completion next month? Will that improve our lot? Don't count on it. In a letter to Elizabeth Nicholls shared to the Welcome Bay Carpooling Group Facebook page, TCC's transport manager Martin Parkes says: “Journey times in the afternoon peak should improve once traffic is onto the Hairini Causeway. Morning peak traffic congestion will remain.”
The knock-on effect is being felt everywhere. People are late to work.
Kids are late to school. The school buses are now having to come up to 25 minutes earlier to try to get everyone to school on time.
Some blame the fact that school buses are no longer free for the congestion.
Selwyn Ridge Primary School principal Craig Price says not only are children arriving late at school, causing an unsettling start to the school day, but parents are also dropping their children off at school early so they can get to work on time, creating a whole new set of problems.
Matters into our own hands
All of this means that the people of Welcome Bay need to take things into their own hands, and they are. People are digging their bikes out of storage, parents are starting up walking school buses and Erica Wilson started the Welcome Bay Carpooling Group Facebook page which has more than 160 members and growing.
Some novel ideas on how to carpool have been tossed around, including people holding ‘hitch-hiking' signs up along Welcome Bay Road for the destinations they are trying to get to, or wearing different coloured caps to indicate where they want to go.
There has been some talk of road rage as a result of the morning frustration but I haven't seen any. Most people seem quite happy to let one car in at a time off the side roads and I've both given and received an appreciative wave.
Change, or get used to it
Martin Parkes has a message for us if we think that roading improvements in the city, including four-laning Turret Road/15th Avenue, are going to be a magic fix to our troubles.
“Expanding road capacity for cars is not the solution,” he says. “We do plan to widen the road corridor in this area, but the additional space will be allocated to people who are prepared to change their travel habits; cyclists, walkers, car poolers, and those using public transport.
“Building enough road capacity to handle all drivers who want to travel in peak hours at the same time without delays is impractical and prohibitively expensive.
“There are occasions when adding more road capacity is a good idea; however, for this particular corridor we won't be able to build enough capacity to completely eliminate peak hour congestion.”
In other words, change your travel habits or get used to it.
The ‘forgotten suburb'
The recent traffic woes have brought up other issues quietly simmering away in Welcome Bay – labelled by one local as “the forgotten suburb”– such as the lack of a supermarket.
I personally don't see the need for one when the nearest supermarkets are less than 10km away, and certainly not if it's going to result in the loss of Waitaha Reserve, which is well-used by the younger members of our community.
But if you do want to see some change in Welcome Bay – whether it be better roads, better public transport or a supermarket – Bill Grainger has some advice for you.
Make yourself heard. Make a submission to the council's Long Term Plan.
He met last week with a small group of concerned Welcome Bay residents and advised them on how to go about making a submission and how to speak to that submission before council.
Submissions to the Long Term Plan can be made from March 16-April 16.
In the meantime, if you're walking along Welcome Bay Road at about 7.10am with a hitchhiking sign saying ‘CBD', I'll be happy to stop and give you a lift.