Roading authorities say work to improve the stretch of State Highway 2 between Waihī and Tauranga has already started this week, but a senior firefighter says there is still a long way to go.
In yesterday's Bay of Plenty Times, Western Bay firefighters expressed concern at heavy congestion hampering their efforts to reach emergencies on SH2. Senior firefighter Brendon Gibbs said a four-lane highway would make a big difference.
However, this has been ruled out by the New Zealand Transport Agency which yesterday confirmed a four-lane highway "is not considered an investment priority for the 2018-21 National Land Transport Programme and construction".
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Agency Bay of Plenty systems manager Rob Campbell said work has this week started on safety improvements between Waihī and Katikati which is expected to include more lane room and wider shoulders.
When asked how specifically the safety improvements would aid emergency services needing to cut through congestion, Campbell replied: "This design provides sufficient space for an emergency vehicle to move past congested traffic and is expected to be the standard used on this road corridor.
"The safety improvements will greatly reduce the number of road-related incidents that emergency services will need to respond too."
Campbell said various SH2 business cases, including the proposed Katikati bypass, were considered as part of the re-evaluation process and the transport agency's board "endorsed the direction to focus on prioritising safety".
"For Katikati, this means that the transport agency will pursue options other than the bypass to improve liveability and manage traffic through the township.
"Balancing local traffic with state highway through-put remains the focus for Katikati," she said
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said there was deep community concern that needed to be assessed and everyone should be paying attention to the voices of the emergency services struggling to get through SH2 traffic.
"Those are the people in our community who we owe the most to, who come when there's an urgent need for help, they come.
"The community feels unsafe on their own road. They are frustrated ... then there's the congestion element."
Duty Minister of Transport Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government has made safety its "number one transport priority and has rebalanced transport investment so all our roads can be safer".
The Government and transport agency promised $100 million of safety improvements for the area. Nationally, it plans to spend $1.4 billion on "urgent safety improvements" which are expected to save 160 deaths and serious injuries a year.
Gibbs said the road was not designed for the current volume of traffic. He said the bypass, like a four-lane highway, would be good for Katikati.
SH2 signs spark safety complaint
Less than a month after Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller erected campaign billboards on the side of State Highway 2, roading authorities have received a complaint asking to take them down.
The New Zealand Transport Agency confirmed it received a complaint over the Christmas period from Papakura driver Jason Hitchen, who expressed concern at the safety of the positioning of the signs on SH2 between Katikati and Tauranga.
The trio of signs, erected on Christmas Eve, read: "This road isn't very safe", "National was building a 4-lane highway here", and "But Labour cancelled it."
Hitchens said he was not politically motivated but the size and position of the signs next to such a notorious highway was concerning.
"They were a bit too close and would be more distracting to a driver. If you are putting signs on a dangerous area to make a point, it doesn't get more wrong."
Hitchen also complained about other National Party campaign signs on the highways between Auckland and Wellsford, and Ashburton and Christchurch.
Transport agency Bay of Plenty systems manager Rob Campbell said it was aware of the complaint but it was a matter for the Western Bay District Council to deal with.
A council spokesman said they were aware of the complaint but there were no plans to take them down at this stage. The council was still working to resolve the matter with the landowner.
Muller said he was glad the signs "got up a few people's noses".
"I did that deliberately ... my job [in opposition] is to push the boat out."