National roading body Waka Kotahi is continuing to look at speed limits on parts of Northland corridors outside of schools and townships. Photo / Tania Whyte
Waka Kotahi has confirmed it is still considering reducing speed limits on Northland’s state highways outside of schools and townships as part of its controversial move to try to stop people dying on the region’s
notoriously dangerous roads.
After initially scaling back its plan to slash all state highway speeds limits from 100km/h to 80km/h due to backlash from residents and Northland roading leaders, the transport agency said it would focus on schools and townships.
Yet Official Information Act documents obtained by National transport spokesman Simeon Brown say: “Speed limits on the open road sections of the corridors in the programme are still being considered.”
A Waka Kotahi spokesman reiterated “there will not be a blanket approach or a single across the board speed limit reduction”.
However, “we are also continuing to look at speed limits on parts of the corridors outside of schools and townships”, he said.
“This will include ongoing conversations with our stakeholders and the community because we know that we have a shared responsibility for improving road safety,” the spokesman said.
AA Northland District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto said Northlanders “should be under no illusion that speed limit reductions remain the key tool the Government is looking at to reduce harm from crashes on New Zealand’s roads”.
“The recently released new Speed Management Guide from Waka Kotahi calculates that about 85 per cent of roads currently have speed limits that are too high,” she said.
“So in the next year or two there are going to be proposals coming out for some significant speed limit changes, not just in Northland but across the whole country.”
Rissetto said where limits have been lowered, whether overseas or in New Zealand, there is a reduction in fatal and serious crashes.
However, surveys done by the AA and Waka Kotahi show most Kiwis don’t like the idea of blanket speed reductions, she said.
“In Northland, where people are already rightly angry about the quality of roads and the huge maintenance backlog, the idea of rolling out widespread speed reductions before basic maintenance is addressed will be a hard sell.
“The AA has been telling government officials for years that we see the best result coming from a balanced approach that delivers better road maintenance and safety upgrades of key routes combined with some targeted speed reductions in higher-risk areas.”
Ann Court, Northland Regional Transport Committee member and Far North deputy mayor, said Waka Kotahi’s latest stance, and the OIA document, “is news to me”.
Northland needs “sensible speed limit reductions” outside schools, marae and townships, she said.
Anything more would be detrimental to the region’s economy, she said.
“The purpose of a road is to move people and freight,” Court said.
“We mustn’t lose sight of that.
“All this political nonsense about reducing speed limits to save lives is not supported by any evidence they’ve been able to produce.
“When they reduce the speed limit, where is the productivity statement that says this is going to save lives and what is the cost to the economy?
From 2011 to 2020, 160 people were killed and 734 suffered serious injuries in crashes on the corridors where speed limit reductions are proposed.
Eleven sections of Northland’s 707km state highway network are up for review as part of sweeping nationwide changes to reduce the road death toll.
State highways in the Far North under review are State Highway 1 Pukenui to Kaitaia, SH10 Pakaraka to Taipa, SH11 Kawakawa to Paihia, SH15 between SH1 (north of Kaikohe) and Otaika, SH12 Ōmāpere to Kaikohe and SH12 Brynderwyn to Ōmāpere.
Others are SH1 Kawakawa to Whangārei, SH14 Dargaville to Whangārei, SH1 Whangārei to Te Hana, SH1 Te Hana to Warkworth and SH16 Wellsford to Waimauku.
Public consultation closed in June with 1162 submissions received.
Some expressed their concerns about the economic impact of lowering speeds, particularly on the open roads and freight routes.
Northland roading leaders warned a blanket approach was not the answer, and mandatory speed limits should not be used as an excuse to put less government funding into safety improvements.
Waka Kotahi then changed tack and said the proposals would not apply any blanket speed limits, and would instead focus on stretches of road outside schools and townships.
Brown – who visited the Far North in September to view the state of the roads after SH1 through Mangamuka gorge was again closed due to bad weather – asked for an update on how the Northland speed review process was progressing in June.
Brown said the fact that speed limit reviews on other sections of the open road were still on the table was “a massive U-turn”.
“It’s an example of where the Government says one thing but does another.
“They need to … focus on maintenance of the roads.
“Their road to zero strategy looks more like a road to zero maintenance strategy.”
RoadSafe Northland road safety co-ordinator Ashley Johnston said speeds on some roads need to be reassessed but blanket changes were never the way to go.
She gave Waka Kotahi credit for “listening to feedback from the majority”.
“They’ve taken on some of that feedback and used a commonsense approach,” Johnston said.
“I think some speeds on our roads need to be reassessed.
“I don’t think some of our roads are safe to be 100km, so it’s a good place to start looking at those.
“We need to do it with a commonsense approach, from an engineer’s perspective looking at safe speeds … and assessing each road and taking it for what it is.”
Waka Kotahi said it was currently reviewing the submissions and would provide a summary of feedback.
A decision on any permanent speed limit changes would be “within the coming months”, the spokesman said.
Speed changes could be implemented via a staged approach from 2023, which means “while we may make decisions about speed changes at the same time, we could take time to make those changes, including changing the physical speed signs.”