John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Fiery meeting hopes to bend political will on unsafe highway

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WAIT OVER: Katikati Community Board chairman Sam Dunlop said the Memorial Square had been a long time in coming - the end result was a worthy one. KAM 24Apr14 - kk160414cs13 MEMORIES: Sally Henry
WAIT OVER: Katikati Community Board chairman Sam Dunlop said the Memorial Square had been a long time in coming - the end result was a worthy one. KAM 24Apr14 - kk160414cs13 MEMORIES: Sally Henry

Katikati's stormy public meeting that saw Transport Minister Simon Bridges and roading officials jeered and booed has been described as a last gasp bid to secure the bypass around the town.

Community board chairman Sam Dunlop said the environmental and social effects seemed to be the only leg the community had to stand on.

"But we can make a hell of a case," he said, summing up the impact that nearly 400 fired-up residents had on Mr Bridges and Coromandel MP Scott Simpson.

"Scott Simpson works hard for the electorate but perhaps they should realise that our party vote could go to New Zealand First next year. There will be a huge increase in pressure over the next 12 months to get the bypass - it is critical to the functioning of our town."

Mr Dunlop was referring to New Zealand First leader Winston Peter's maneuvering in Tauranga that removed the threat of tolls on the four-laned Harbour Bridge and saw the Government take over the city council's $60 million debt on Route K.

He said there was a convincing economic argument why so many inter-regional trucks took SH2 instead of coming over the Kaimais via SH29. The extra kilometres and flogging the engines up and down the Kaimais cost an extra $250 per trip from Auckland.

If half of the average 750 trucks a day that went through Katikati took the Kaimai route, it would add about $23 million a year to transport industry costs, he said.

The issue for Mr Dunlop was not so much the volume of trucks that used SH2, but getting them out of the town centre and onto the planned $42 million bypass.

Quizzed whether he thought the meeting would change the thinking of transport agency planners, he responded: "No, but it will alter the thinking of the politicians."

He recalled the day when the town's Anzac Day Dawn Parade had to be shifted inside because of the racket from passing trucks.

"I would hope that Mr Bridges has enough intelligence to see that it was not a display but real emotion. Some very compelling information was put in front of him."

Mr Dunlop said Mr Bridges had the sense to shut down the transport agency official after he was booed by the crowd who had heard it all before.

"The bypass [route] is purchased, surveyed and designated. That is what infuriates us."

A main road that skirted the town had been envisaged as far back as 1923 when it was surveyed with the railway line to run around Katikati, he said.

Mr Dunlop said human error was behind a lot of the crashes that involved vehicles coming out of side roads along SH2. However the likelihood of crashes could be reduced by the introduction of more slip lanes for right turning vehicles that crossed the paths of on-coming traffic. He hoped slip lanes would be a priority for the planned $85 million of safety improvements along SH2 to Waihi.

He opposed reducing the speed limit, saying there was nothing worse than doing 80 km/h on a road that car drivers could be doing 100 km/h.

"If someone was going to make a terrible mistake, it would not make any difference to the outcome."

Meanwhile, Labour's transport spokeswoman Sue Moroney has warned that the Government was proposing regulations to allow even heavier and larger trucks than the juggernauts allowed two years ago.

Bigger dimension trucks was foolish in the current environment where the road toll was going against the long-term downward trend.

She said the crash that killed five Tongans was another tragic example of why the Government needed to think more carefully before it introduced larger trucks. "The issue of safety has to be at the top of the minister's thinking"

Ms Moroney said more effort needed to be put into getting the bigger freight volumes onto rail.

Mr Bridges said since National has been in Government, the Western Bay of Plenty has had a significant uplift in funding for roading and now had what was probably the highest per-capita roading investment in New Zealand.

He said trucks were vital to the Western Bay economy and "frankly, our way of life".

"They are what gets the avocados from Katikati to market, and also the kiwifruit from all over the Bay to the port.

"Safety is incredibly important, but, in fact, heavier trucks means fewer trucks on the road because they can carry more and this has safety benefits."

Mr Bridges said there were many reasons why some truckers used State Highway 2 over SH29, but planning by the Government and the Transport Agency had the SH1 to SH29 corridor as a nationally significant freighting highway that truckers would be encouraged to use as investment continued.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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