Last attempts to stop median SH2 barriers

SH2 side road residents, Gino de Graaf, Mike Williams and Kirsten Warbooke at the Lund Rd/ SH2 intersection which will be impacted by median barrier installation. Photo: John Borren.

After yet another meeting earlier this week to stop median barriers that will restrict access to their homes, residents of Work Rd and Lund Rd wait with bated breath for Waka Kotahi’s decision.

As part of NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi’s safety improvement works to SH2, the entity plans to install 8km of median barriers along this highway between Wharawhara Rd and Morton Rd, starting mid this year.

Waka Kotahi’s director of regional relationships for the Bay of Plenty and Waikato, David Speirs, says the project is in the construction phase and well progressed.

“The roundabouts currently being built are to enable median barrier installation, as they provide safe turnaround points.

"Four roundabouts have already been built and the fifth (of six in total) are in construction,” says David.

Residents of roads adjacent to SH2 are strongly opposed to the median barriers going ahead.

They will prevent right hand turns onto residential roads including Work Rd and Lund Rd – meaning “another seven kilometres” of travel says, former Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor and resident of a Work Rd side road, Mike Williams.

Impacts on residents 

Mike says Waka Kotahi is “oblivious” to the community’s concerns surrounding the median barriers.

“One of the concerns is inability of emergency vehicles to get to people, fires, the extra kilometres travelled by residents, tradies, truckies – you name it.

Anyone who comes up the road is going to have to travel a lot further every time they come and go.”

Gino de Graaf lives on Lund Rd which will also be impacted by median barriers and is a rural contractor.

“From a work point of view it’s quite disruptive,” says Gino.

“I’m one of many that work as a rural provider to orchards like mulchers, shelterbelt trimmers – all these people need to access these roads for their work.”

Gino says the extra distance he will need to drive due to the median barriers will “certainly add cost.”

“Whether I absorb it or I pass it on – it’s going to inconvenience my work.

'"And it’s not just during my busy period – I do a lot of visits, not just one-offs.”

Fatal crashes and serious injury 

David says the improvements on SH2 are evidence-based road design.

“The original widening project (completed in 2023) would achieve a 44 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries [DSIs], the addition of median barrier is predicted to reduce DSIs by 75 per cent,” says David.

“This equates to around 60 deaths and serious injuries prevented over 10 years.”

To his knowledge as a local, Mike says there haven’t been any fatal crashes at Work Rd or Lund in the last 10 years.

“There’s been one fatal accident in the last 10 years from an intersection and that was out of Dawson Rd.”

This was the 2016 incident in which five kiwifruit workers from Tonga were killed after a collision with a logging truck.

The Weekend Sun asked Waka Kotahi to clarify where on this section of SH2 that deaths have occurred within the last 10 years.

The agency did not specify where crashes have precisely happened, and instead shared a crash map of SH2.

“Crashes are grouped to make this map easier to read.

"This should not be interpreted as where crash hotspots are. Crashes can occur anywhere,” says David.

The crash analysis from Ōmokoroa to Waihī provided by Waka Kotahi. Photo: Supplied.

At Monday’s Regional Transport Committee Meeting which Mike and Gino both attended to voice their concerns, Bay of Plenty Road Policing Manager Inspector Logan Marsh shared the crash reports for our region.

“Year to date our fatal [crashes] are sitting at 13 which is the lowest in five years which is positive,” said Logan at the meeting.

“A breakdown geographically – five in the Taupō area, four in the Rotorua area, two in the Western Bay of Plenty here, and one in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.”

Extra hazards 

Mike thinks the median barriers will create extra hazards on SH2 as he believes people will do u-turns to avoid extra 7km detours to get home.

“Most of the barriers are going to finish about 200 meters before a bridge.

"So you come down and put your hazard lights on, do a u-turn and head back home again.”

“It’s a trade-off between safety and convenience,” says Western Bay of Plenty mayor, James Denyer on the matter.

“I think the evidence is quite clear that the data has presented about the reduction in death and serious injuries.”

James also notes: “It would be nice if there were gaps in the barriers to allow at least right hand turns into the roads. There may be possibilities there.”

Gino says it is not about residents feeling inconvenienced.

“I feel that fundamentally we have not been considered seriously.

"We want to feel safe and stay connected to our people and place. Katikati and its environment are our foundation.”

Down south 

As it happens, NZTA abandoned plans to install median barriers on State Highway 1 between Ashburton and Rakaia last month after push back from that community.

The Weekend Sun asked why NZTA will not consider abandoning the installation of median barriers on this section of SH2 as it did for SH1.

“The safety improvements on SH2 are significantly more advanced than the SH1 Timaru to St Andrews project, which is subject to funding, timing and further potential scope changes as NZTA aligns the project with government priorities,” says David.

“It’s worth noting that this community [SH2] has called for safety improvements along SH2 very strongly over the years, including asking for including median barriers.”

Sharing concerns 

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson says he has been advocating against this plan in the format being promoted by NZTA since its inception.

“The previous Labour Government’s Road to Zero strategy resulted in widespread median barrier installations, which are causing frustration for locals in our area and for people in other parts of the country too,” says Scott.

“I will continue to encourage NZTA to take a more practical approach and will keep Simeon Brown’s attention on this as well.”

Minister of Transport, Simeon Brown says: “Local MP Scott Simpson has expressed to me that there is a high level of frustration with the installation of median barriers across State Highway 2 as this results in lengthy detours for people who live on roads coming off State Highway 2.

“I have asked NZTA to look at the impact the proposed barriers have on access to residents on side streets off State Highway 2."

“If they do try and construct wire barriers past intersections locals aren’t going to just sit on their hands,” says Mike.

“We’re not prepared to let this happen here,” says Gino.

Mike says the last official meeting to attend ahead of SH2 median barrier construction will be at a public forum at WBOP council on Tuesday, June 4.

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