Roadworks to install median barriers and posts are starting south of Whangārei this week. Photo / Tania Whyte
News of impending roadworks to reduce head-on crashes on a deadly stretch of State Highway 1 is predicted to cause headaches for some motorists.
The installation of flexible median barriers, safety posts and wider median
strips on SH1, south of Whangārei, is part of the Government’s Road to Zero strategy.
The work will stretch from the Port Marsden Highway roundabout south to Lagoon Bridge, and further south from Finlayson Brook Rd to Waipu Gorge Rd.
National Road Carriers Association board member and former chairman Don Wilson said there is no doubt Northland’s roads need work.
“The roads in Northland – I’ve got several words for them but poor is probably the most polite one.
“They’re suffering from many years of neglect and poor maintenance and a lack of funding to remedy the issues.”
Wilson, who also owns trucking business OnRoad Transport, said there had been issues with suitable diversions for trucks while roadworks were underway.
“There’s not enough diversion options or when they do have a diversion they don’t have it well enough signposted at night time and the driver can get into all sorts of problems.”
On one night recently, Wilson said, the road between Dairy Flat and Wellsford was shut and there was a crash blocking SH16, and an alternative route for trucks was unclear.
“They were diverting trucks a different way and then a truck went up the road it shouldn’t have gone up and it got stuck.”
There was another incident just over a week ago when a milk tanker slid off the narrow Ruapekapeka Rd, where traffic was diverted after a crash on SH1 near Waiomio.
Wilson said the transport industry needs plenty of notice about future closures and diversions.
“We know that these improvements need to be done and when they shut a road at night, they shut a road at night for a reason.
“We’re not against them shutting a road but when they shut a road they need to talk to the road users, talk to the National Road Carriers, for instance, so they can talk about alternative routes.
“Sometimes the alternative routes aren’t practical for us.”
There could be major issues if Northland was cut off, Wilson added, as there were a lot of “just-in-time” deliveries that needed to get through.
According to Waka Kotahi, wide centre lines reduce serious crashes by up to 20 per cent as they create more space and help separate oncoming vehicles. Flexible median barriers can reduce deaths and serious injuries by 65 per cent.
So far this year, 25 people have died on Northland’s roads.
Road safety advocate John Williamson said the median barriers were highly effective, and the most cost-effective way to reduce the road toll.
“Even the sticks that (Whangārei-based National list MP) Shane Reti refers to – they look horrible but they create a visual barrier.”
Although a four-lane highway with separation of cars would be best, the barriers were a good short term solution, Williamson said.
“It’s not absolutely ideal but it’s a good thing to do in the meantime.”
Barriers installed on the Brynderwyns have been highly effective, he added.
A Waka Kotahi spokeswoman said the agency was not expecting significant delays as the work to install median barriers south of SH1 was not major, and would mostly take place at night.
Roadworks were most often planned for summer, she said, as it was the best time to do them.
“Warmer spring and summer months are the best time for resurfacing as daylight hours are longer and the warm temperatures and dry air help the new seal stick to the road surface. Warm weather helps ensure the new seal becomes strong and long-lasting.
“During the peak summer months it is a balance to programme as much work as we can before schools return, while the roads are quieter, whilst also minimising the effect on people’s holiday travel.”
Reti said the Government’s current plan for SH1 was inadequate and not a substitute for four-laning.
“We want four lanes, not sticks. Sticks in the middle of the road are not the four lanes that we were promised and do not meet the need for productivity, for efficiency.
“I don’t know anyone who’s happy with the option we’re being given and at the end of the day we need four lanes.”
A plan to expand SH1 south of Whangārei to four lanes was abandoned by the Government in June last year, in favour of investing in a rail link from Whangārei to Northport and safety improvements on SH1 including median barriers.
The first stage was planned to go as far as Port Marsden Highway, and then to Te Hana to connect to a four-lane road from Auckland.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said shortly after the decision that the rail project would be best for Northland.
“There will still be projects funded over the years in this region. An enormous amount of money has gone into maintaining our state highway network and improving the roading network,” he said.