Road workers holding stop/go signs have faced such abuse by drivers in Northland, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is replacing them with traffic lights. (File photo)
Aggressive and abusive drivers have forced Waka Kotahi to change its traffic management practices in Northland, from people holding stop/go signs to automatic traffic lights.
The move comes as the agency is urging drivers to be patient and plan ahead, with significant roadworks planned for Northland’s state highways over summer – despite the roads being busiest at this time.
Last week, police had to be called by roadworkers on Kerikeri Rd after they faced abuse, with road cones being thrown at them, and dangerous driving.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency often sees this sort of behaviour as it works on Northland’s state highways and has had to call police several times due to abusive and dangerous driving.
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Maintenance and operations regional manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said drivers not following traffic management – such as ignoring a stop sign – created a real danger.
“We’ve had breaches. It puts our team at risk, as they’ve had to jump out of the way of a car who doesn’t want to stop.”
Those holding the stop/go signs have seen more and more people frustrated, and have copped abuse despite just doing their jobs, she said.
“We’re moving away from stop/go to e-stops, with traffic lights, because the abuse that our teams got is probably not great. You don’t come to work to be abused.”
Northland has the biggest state highway network in the country and Waka Kotahi’s summer roadworks programme will see 133km chipsealed, 15km resealed, 10km dug up and rebuilt and 27km treated for skid resistance, at a cost of $18.6 million.
The distances are measured in “lane kilometres” to show the full scale of works being done.
The total of 185km of work is part of the country’s largest ever road renewal programmes, and is on top of major projects like improvements at Dome Valley and Loop Rd, safety improvements on SH1 south of Whangārei, and a new two-lane bridge being built at Kāeo.
The work comes after traffic volumes in Northland have increased unexpectedly, as well as after a record-wet winter damaged the highways, Hori-Hoult said.
Northland, Waikato and Taranaki also have challenging geography, she said.
But work had to be done in summer’s hotter and drier weather, despite Northland’s roads being busier, Hori-Hoult said.
Take a ride on State Highway 1, heading north to Whangārei, where the roadworks are causing congestion. Video first published April 2019.
“There’s huge frustration over the summer period because this is the best time for us to build roads and get good quality outcomes, and for Northland it’s the busiest time to come north.
“But there’s also conversations that we’re not investing in Northland’s roads … There’s a lot of investment when you see road cones.”
To help combat congestion problems, the agency was doing as much work as it could at night and making the most of any road closures with multiple teams working at the same time, she said.
But temporary speed limits needed to be followed, even during the day when there might not be roadworkers around, to ensure safety and a good road surface, she said.
She urged drivers to plan their trip before hitting the road, with Waka Kotahi’s roadworks map and Journey Planner.
Anyone who saw a pothole on a state highway could also let the agency know by phoning 0800 44 44 49.
Nationally, Waka Kotahi is planning to reseal or re-build approximately 2450km of the state highways, equivalent to 10% of the state highway network.