Gridlock

Tauranga's traffic congestion is out of control, with new figures showing an alarming increase in the vehicle count at 10 of our busiest intersections.

The Bay of Plenty Times today launches Gridlock – Tauranga's No. 1 issue, a series examining what's gone wrong, the chokepoints and how bad they have become and the impact on people, businesses and the wider city.

But what does the mayor think about it? In a special guest editorial, Greg Brownless gives his opinion on why the problem has happened, what needs to be done and who needs to step up to help solve it.

COMMENT:

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The inextricable link between transport (roads and the way we use them) and housing has become very apparent as congestion and gridlock has increased all around the city over the past few years.

The problems begin on the state highways that surround and bisect Tauranga and flow through to our suburban roads.

Essentially more and more people have come to live here, requiring more and more houses.

The transport networks needed to serve those houses and people has not kept up.

The solution lies in improving the roads where possible, combined with rethinking how we use our vehicles.

Central Government points to a change in transport habits being required to solve the congestion – more than one person per vehicle, using buses, biking and walking.

Broadly these changes are called modal shift. Many people scoff at some of these, but if you think about it, every person on a bus, or biking, or even walking, is one less person in a car.

Fewer cars equal less congestion, and if we stick to our current habits, any new roads will merely clog up again.

When driving around lately, yes admittedly with often only me in my car, I've taken to observing how many people are in other cars too.

Like me, it's often just one. It's up to all of us to think about how we can better use our vehicles and to carpool where possible.

Public transport or buses are a real chicken or egg situation. We won't use buses until there is enough frequency, reliability and until they take the right routes to suit our needs.

Often the buses we do see are travelling around near empty, and some then say that they're therefore a waste of resource. But to ever become a city with great public transport we have to start somewhere.

To do nothing will make the situation worse.

Morning traffic on Turret Rd. Photo / George Novak
Morning traffic on Turret Rd. Photo / George Novak

It's worth covering where the responsibility for roading and road funding lies.

State Highways such as the road at Tauriko, harbour bridges and Hewletts Rd are controlled by the NZ Transport Agency, a Government organisation. You pay for these roads through fuel taxes.

Local roads are the responsibility of the council, but NZTA pays a half share of maintenance and improvements, the rest coming from rates.

I'm fighting hard for Tauranga to get its fair share of NZTA road funding and to get projects started immediately.

The Northern Arterial was all set to go but is now in limbo with NZTA procrastinating on getting on with the job. We also need urgent work on the Omokoroa-to-Bethlehem, Tauriko-to-Barkes Corner, and Hewletts Rd state highways.

I have made it clear that Tauranga people will not accept further significant housing development until these roads are sorted. We won't allow the city to become even more congested with growth that compounds the gridlock already experienced.

The other important reason for Tauranga to get better central government support is because we house New Zealand's largest and most efficient port.

Increased freight movements to and from the port either by road or rail compete with local traffic and clog our roads even more. This affects both the port's efficiency and people going about other business in Tauranga.

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless says traffic is now the city's number one priority.

One road that has attracted attention over the years is 15th Ave. This was the subject of a government promise dating back to 2008 to make it four lanes through to the Hairini Underpass.

We got the underpass but not the four laning of 15th Ave. Council is ready to make improvements to 15th Ave, but these have been held up due to lack of partnership funding.

Despite the problems, I'm increasingly hopeful that the Government will see the importance of Tauranga as a significant port city trying to cope with rapid growth and will agree to implement state highway fixes now.

If they do, we can get on with opening up more land for much-needed housing. But we need answers and action now.

Read here for dramatic new figures which reveal the scale of Tauranga's traffic woes.
Read here to discover the human impact of Gridlock - Tauranga's No. 1 issue.
Read here for Dylan Thorne's editorial, launching this five-part series.
Tomorrow, we reveal how traffic congestion is affecting businesses, and why it could have a devastating impact on the housing sector.