Tauranga's ballooning population has contributed to major construction developments throughout the city, including the Baypark to Bayfair Link (B2B) project at Mount Maunganui. However, plans to remove a popular underpass from underneath Maunganui Rd has prompted the formation of a new group of community advocates, calling for the existing underpass to remain. Reporter Kiri Gillespie talks to key members of the alliance to find out why they have formed, who they represent and just how far they are willing to go.
Representatives of a newly formed Tauranga advocacy group say they will physically sit inside a popular Mount Maunganui underpass, if they have to, in order to prevent its demolition.
The Bayfair Underpass Alliance includes advocates from Bike Tauranga, Greater Tauranga and Pāpāmoa Residents and Ratepayers Association.
Alliance spokesman Phillip Brown said the group was an umbrella entity for different groups in the community aghast at an NZ Transport Agency decision to remove the Bayfair underpass as part of its $120m Baypark to Bayfair Link (B2B) project.
The underpass runs underneath Maunganui Rd at the intersection of State Highway 2 with Girven and Matapihi roads, providing a safe crossing for pedestrians and cyclists.
In 2016, the Bay of Plenty Times revealed the transport agency had not included the underpass in its B2B plans, sparking community outrage. In 2017, the transport agency decided to reconsider and announced in 2018 it would build an underpass into the project.
Last month, however, the transport agency pulled the plug, saying the underpass would cost $33 million to build, and was too expensive.
The underpass is expected to be demolished next month.
"It doesn't make any sense. Everything they are doing is wrong from a safety point of view," Brown said.
The alliance was a way to give different groups "a louder voice".
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"All these groups were fighting this battle on their own. We've made it into a real entity now, with some mana and some guts."
Brown said the group would be willing to physically sit in the underpass in protest to prevent its demolition, if need be.
"That's the level we are prepared to move to. Sometimes you have to. We don't want to but you just think about how everything has happened. The whole thing is a shambles. We can't let it continue."
Brown, an engineer, said he was not convinced of the transport agency's reasoning for removing the underpass.
"It can be resolved. I know what I'm talking about. This is my bread and butter.
"We've got to future-proof the major crossing of that Baylink road. It's not going to be a nice, quiet little roundabout with just a few crossings, especially as our population grows."
Fellow alliance member Heidi Hughes, from Greater Tauranga, previously collected 963 signatures in a petition to keep the underpass, which was presented to Tauranga City Council.
"I've got 43 pages of comments from people saying 'we need to be able to get our kids to and from school safely'. It was such an outpouring because it's a loss of empowerment really."
The Bayfair Underpass Alliance plans to hold a community meeting in coming week.
When asked whether the transport agency would meet with the group, project manager John McCarthy said: "We remain committed to increasing access to active modes of transport, and will continue to meet with Tauranga City Council, and when required other stakeholders to work through and explore future options."
The agency has previously said it would look into other options for pedestrians and cyclists, including an overbridge.
Last month Tauranga City Council raised concerns with NZTA about Baypark to Bayfair - the biggest transport project in the Bay of Plenty.
Chief executive Marty Grenfell called for a "pause" in the project so the council, agency and the community could reassess whether its planned design met modern transport goals.
The council had concerns about the lack of bus lanes or facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as new modelling that suggested that any traffic time savings for motorists could be eclipsed by growth within a decade.