Gridlock

Tauranga's traffic congestion has escalated to the point where it is affecting lives and businesses.

The city's traffic count has ballooned over the past six years and city and business leaders have issued warnings about what could happen if the problem isn't fixed.

But what are the roads we hate the most? Which ones make motorists so upset that they lodge complaints with the council?

As part of a special series, titled Gridlock – Tauranga's No. 1 issue, we reveal the five roads drivers complain about the most and why they are such a problem.

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Totara St, Hewletts Rd, 15th Ave, Turret Rd and Cameron Rd.

These are the Tauranga roads motorists love to hate, according to complaints lodged with Tauranga City Council.

A total of 71 congestion complaints were made to the city council in the past 12 months.

The complaints ranked Totara St, Hewletts Rd, 15th Ave, Turret Rd and Cameron Rd as the worst for traffic jams.

This week, the Bay of Plenty Times revealed there are 767,000 more vehicle movements through 10 of Tauranga's busiest intersections weekly, compared with six years ago – a rise of 37.54 per cent between 2013 and 2019.

The busiest intersections of the 10 this year are Hewletts Rd and Totara St, 15th Ave and Cameron Rd, Hewletts Rd and Jean Batten Dr, and Moffat Rd and State Highway 2.

The next busiest is 15th Ave and Fraser St.

According to data supplied with the congestion complaints information, Totara St had the slowest speed reading with city-bound traffic travelling as slow as 8km/h.

The average peak-hour speed on these roads was 30km/h compared to 60km/h at night.

Tauranga City Council acting general manager infrastructure Martin Parkes confirmed there was an increase in traffic growth across the city, which reflected an increase in residential and commercial activity.

Parkes said progress on these pinch-points was on hold while the council worked to promote alternative transport.

Engineers last year confirmed to the Tauranga City Council the Hairini Bridge deck was wide enough – including the cycle lane – to squeeze in a third traffic lane.

However, at the time Parkes said this potential tidal-flow option - citybound in the morning rush of merging traffic from Welcome Bay and State Highway 29A in both directions, then the reverse in the evening - was likely to be years away.

There were several obstacles to overcome such as extending the third lane into 15th Ave.

We spend a morning at one of Tauranga's biggest choke points for traffic; Turret Rd.

Then on March 13, the council stopped contracts for transportation upgrade and safety projects, unless there was confirmed partnership funding from the NZ Transport Agency.

The move has stalled any progress on $22 million worth of roading projects, all of which remain confidential for commercial privacy reasons except for 15th Ave.

The move was made in protest at a perceived lack of action from the Government agency on city projects, understood to include Tauranga's worst pinch-points.

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said many of the city's traffic woes stemmed from intersections with state highways.

"I realise Greerton [Cameron Rd traffic changes] is ours ... but what's happening with Barkes Corner? NZTA. Hewletts Rd? NZTA. Totara St is the biggest feeder to the Port, and we are expected to manage that somehow as well as encourage cyclists, people walking, people in cars, logging trucks, all of that on the same road? From that sentence alone you can see how complicated that becomes."

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless says many of the city's traffic woes stem from intersections with state highways. Photo / George Novak
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless says many of the city's traffic woes stem from intersections with state highways. Photo / George Novak

In February, under heated criticism from Greerton locals, council members agreed to engage consultants to investigate options for improving the recent traffic redesign at Greerton, including moving the pedestrian crossing and exploring the idea of a pedestrian overpass or underpass.

A transport agency spokeswoman said it was committed to delivering on the Government's objectives (to invest in more alternative transport options).

"There has been a significant shift in these priorities which now focus on a safer transport network free of death and injury, mode neutrality, sustainability and the environment."

The spokeswoman said there had been high demand for funding for roading projects and it was now working on prioritising these "and establishing what can be realistically funded".

Heather Kerr and another Tauranga mum said they would like to see the council introduce a tidal flow on Hairini Bridge, with a clip-on for pedestrians.
Heather Kerr and another Tauranga mum said they would like to see the council introduce a tidal flow on Hairini Bridge, with a clip-on for pedestrians.

Stuck in traffic with no other option

Heather Kerr spends about an hour travelling from Hairini to the CBD each morning, unable to bike or use public transport.

The mum-of-two leaves home about 8am to drop her son off to Maungatapu School at 8.30am. She then joins city-bound traffic and drops her other son off at daycare before arriving at work about 9am.

Kerr said it used to be frustrating trying to make it to work in time. Sometimes she didn't.

"Now, I've just accepted that there is something you can't change."

A Welcome Bay mother, who would not be named, said she was now avoiding Turret Rd and 15th Ave by using the Takitimu Dr toll road.

Paying the extra $1.50 and travelling the extra distance each morning to avoid peak-hour traffic was worth it, she said.

Both she and Kerr said they would like to see the council introduce a tidal flow on Hairini Bridge, with a clip-on for pedestrians.

The Welcome Bay mum said she wished more went into long-term planning years ago and preferred a long-term fix than a temporary one.

Tauranga mum who spends about an hour commuting to work each morning shares her thoughts on what could be done to fix Turret Rd congestion.

Tauranga's most complained about chokepoints

•Turret Rd

Traffic from State Highway 29A merges with other traffic and heads towards Turret Rd and the city. Photo / George Novak
Traffic from State Highway 29A merges with other traffic and heads towards Turret Rd and the city. Photo / George Novak

It is only a couple of kilometres long, but this popular stretch of road funnels traffic feeding in from Maungatapu, Hairini, Ōhauiti, Welcome Bay, Pāpāmoa and Te Puke, at least. Motorists travelling towards town from the Hairini bus lane, Welcome Bay Rd and coming off State Highway 29A merge from three lanes into two-lanes before turning into 15th Ave. The congestion is worst in the mornings.

•15th Ave

Traffic caught up in congestion on 15th Ave, heading towards Turret Rd. Photo / Andrew Warner
Traffic caught up in congestion on 15th Ave, heading towards Turret Rd. Photo / Andrew Warner

On the flip-side to Turret Rd's morning issues, 15th Ave is regularly clogged with eastbound traffic in afternoons with motorists travelling south-east of Tauranga's CBD or SH2. The four-lane highway becomes two lanes east of Fraser St and congestion is exacerbated by motorists stopping to let traffic in from 14th Ave.

•Totara St

Traffic is regularly backed up on Totara St. Photo / Andrew Warner
Traffic is regularly backed up on Totara St. Photo / Andrew Warner

As Mount Maunganui's main feeder road to the Port of Tauranga, Totara St is host to countless freight and logging truck movements. The two-lane road also acts as a key arterial route from Hewletts Rd to downtown Mount Maunganui and is popular for many motorists travelling between Tauranga and the Mount.

•Hewletts Rd

Traffic on Hewletts Rd in Mount Maunganui. Photo / Andrew Warner
Traffic on Hewletts Rd in Mount Maunganui. Photo / Andrew Warner

This stretch of SH2 is busy with industrial, commercial and residential traffic travelling between Tauranga and Mount Maunganui. The three-lane highway includes one of Tauranga's two dedicated bus lanes and is the main thoroughfare for airport and Mount Maunganui traffic.

•Cameron Rd

Traffic on Cameron Rd in central Tauranga. Photo / Andrew Warner
Traffic on Cameron Rd in central Tauranga. Photo / Andrew Warner

Cameron Rd stretches the length of Tauranga from the CBD to Pyes Pa, where it meets with SH29A at Barkes Corner. Between Wharf St and 19th Ave and 22nd Ave and Church St, the road is four lanes but two lanes in other areas, including through Greerton. Controversial changes to the village's traffic layout have been blamed by some for increased congestion in the area.

Tomorrow: Is public transport the answer? As part of our special series on Gridlock - Tauranga's No.1 issue we take a look at buses and other ways to get around the city.