While agreeing to slower speed limits on some parts of State Highway 5, at a passionate community meeting last week, around 50 Te Pōhue residents unanimously voted against Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s proposal to lower the speed limit to 80km/hour across two-thirds of the road.
“There is concern – real concern – among the community that the reduced limit as proposed will increase frustration and create more dangerous driving,” Mōhaka ward councillor and Hastings district deputy mayor Tania Kerr said.
“The community told us loud and clear that the issue was not speed but poor driver behaviour. They want Waka Kotahi to demonstrate that they are investing in the road, instead of issuing a blanket lower speed limit.”
The community also called for more slow vehicle bays and passing lanes. One attendee said: “There are safety issues with drivers not familiar with the road, trying to pass truck drivers around blind corners.”
Mrs Kerr said: “If the speed limit is only 80 kilometres/hour on a passing lane it gives drivers less time to pass and will only increase frustration creating more dangerous driving.”
Locals also disagreed with Waka Kotahi’s assertion that the lower speed limit would only put 41 seconds more on the journey.
“The community wants Waka Kotahi to prove that. Many have recently done the trip at 80 kilometres/hour and they say the increase in travel time will have a huge impact on their wages. There are a significant number of workers who use State Highway 5 daily to get to work, often driving hundreds of kilometres, including logging crews, harvest crews, and shearing gangs, as well as many residents who work in town.
“One truck driver who addressed the meeting said that the lower speed limit will mean he has to make one less trip a day, potentially losing a quarter of his income,” Mrs Kerr said.
“Members of the community estimate that the reduced speed will add 15 minutes to each journey. This means that shearers will need to leave town earlier for a 6:30am start. The costs of tradesmen who come out to properties along State Highway 5 will increase,” she said.
One local resident, Kiri Goodspeed from Te Hāroto, said the proposed speed restrictions would have a significant impact on locals’ lifestyle.
“I would have to consider going to town only once a fortnight instead of every week, reconsider whether as a business it was economical to have clients in town, and consider withdrawing my children from the only early childcare education available,” Ms Goodspeed said.
“A trip to the hospital, which currently takes me one hour in good conditions and clear traffic, will under 80 kilometre/hour conditions mean the trip will take me one hour and 20 minutes, assuming I don’t end up behind a string of trucks or campervans.
“These are the human considerations that Waka Kotahi needs to take into account,” she said.
The community meeting agreed that speed limits should be lowered around the villages of Te Pōhue and Te Haroto, with a pull-off area introduced at Tarawera for north-bound traffic.
“Without a clear plan to invest in State Highway 5, that road will continue to be dangerous, no matter what speed drivers use. The community will suffer significantly if the speed limit is introduced,” Mrs Kerr said.
27 April 2021
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