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There are fresh calls for the northern link from Takitimu to be fully built as new data shows how much safer the eastern link from Tauranga is than the highway it replaced.
The data shows the
number of fatalities, injuries and accident factors on the Te Puke Highway between 2010 and July 30, 2015, and on Tauranga Eastern Link between July 31, 2015 and April 26, 2021.
There were significantly fewer accident factors on the Tauranga Eastern Link, reflecting a massive decrease in the number of fatalities, serious injuries, minor injuries and total number of accidents.
A road safety campaigner said the data was “quite compelling” and a transport agency manager said the Tauranga Eastern Link was working as expected.
One deputy said the data showed State Highway 2 was a “death trap”, while another said some Western Bay residents refused to drive on it out of fear.
There were 317 accidents on the Te Puke Highway during this five-year period, with 579 accident factors such as poor observation or fatigue coming into play. On the Tauranga Eastern Link over the following five years, there were 75 accidents and 126 letter carriers.
The total number of people injured on the Te Puke highway was 135 compared to 15 on the Tauranga Eastern Link. There were nine deaths on the first and one on the second.
Roger Brady, system manager for the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Bay of Plenty, said the data, released under the Official Information Act, was awaited.
“The new TEL was built to significantly improve safety, reduce the number of fatal and serious accidents in the region, and is achieving this.”
Prior to the construction of the Tauranga Eastern Link, traffic on the then State Highway 2 had a high accident rate, traffic moved slowly, and there was no room for growth.
The Tauranga Eastern Link was a relatively straight, flat, multi-lane national highway, while the Te Puke Highway (formerly SH2) was windy and had a single lane in each direction.
The new road also featured many grade-separated interchanges that allowed safe access to collector roads and residential areas. In contrast, the Te Puke highway had many access roads and private driveways directly adjacent to the 100 km/h rural road.
“The data shows that safety interventions such as the wire rope barrier are key to reducing fatalities and serious injuries on national highways,” Brady said.
“We have multi-barrier strikes on the wire rope every month. Without the wire rope, the outcome would probably be very different.”
Building Tauranga’s four-lane, 21km wire-cable eastern link took the best part of five years and cost $455 million.
It was the largest road project in the Bay of Plenty before it opened to traffic on August 3, 2015.
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said the data showed why the northern Takitimu, SH2 link between Ōmokoroa and Tauranga should be given priority.
“You couldn’t get a clearer picture of the danger SH2 poses to our community,” he said.
“It’s an awfully dangerous stretch of road and the data shows that. Then you compare it to the TEL, which is one of the safest stretches of road in the country,” Muller said.
“There’s a reason you’re building these roads. It helps get people from A to B faster and keeps people safe.”
The first stage of the Takitimu Northern Link is already underway. It is 6.8 km long and will connect SH29 Takitimu Drive to SH2 west of Te Puna.
However, the second stage, between Te Puna and Ōmokoroa, will not be built and is unlikely to be launched in the next decade.
In June 2021, Transport Minister Michael Wood and Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson announced that the government would no longer fund Stage Two.
Originally, both stages were to be completed by 2027 and cost $933 million. The second stage would cost $455 million.
Muller said doing a cost-benefit analysis made sense in all situations, but he was furious that the Takitimu Northern Link was not built to its originally planned specifications.
“This road had been put out to tender and it would have passed the construction phase well if we stuck to the original schedule,” Muller said.
“It’s only just started and now it’s not going all the way to Ōmokoroa. There are some things that should be above politics, frankly.
“This road is a deadly trap, it needs to be fixed. Everyone knows it and the government is dragging its feet.”
Eighteen people died on the infamous stretch of road between Tauranga and Katikati between 2012 and 2016, the highest death toll of any national highway.
Another 35 were seriously injured and 95 were lightly injured on this section of SH2, according to crash data from the transport agency.
Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said he knew people who were too scared to drive on the road.
“They won’t be driving it themselves, so they have to rely on their family members to drive them in and out of Tauranga town,” he said.
“I spoke to a couple who won’t even be driven on this road. They won’t use it because they fear for their lives.
“That’s not how it should be for people in New Zealand’s province.”
Simpson, the National Party’s associate transport spokesman, said he believed the data showed why new highways suitable for use now and in the future, such as the Tauranga Eastern Link, should be built.
“Tacky plaster solutions, which is what happens on the LNP, is not really the answer, but a short-term solution,” he said.
Fix the Bloody Road campaigner Andrew Hollis said there was a clear trend that there were fewer incidents on a “brand new motorway than on an old dusty B-road”.
“It’s quite compelling.”
Hollis said, in an ideal world, a four-lane highway would be built after Katikati, but he believed the government had other priorities.
“State Highway 2 just needs to be completed.”
Transport Minister Michael Wood said improving road safety was one of his priorities and that although the national government promised projects, it never delivered.
“In contrast, we have increased funding to over $600 million to deliver Takitimu Stage 1, which is well on its way to construction. It’s action, not words that matter.”
Wood said $50 million has been invested to protect the LNP Stage 2 route so construction can begin when the time is right.
Community members have been invited to meet the team working on the Takitimu North Link project this weekend as construction kicks off on the first of eight bridges to be constructed.
The briefing will take place at Bethlehem Hall on May 28 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Piling will start from next week for about six weeks, and the bridge will take about 12 months to build.