Decisions to remove a popular Mount Maunganui underpass as part of a major roading project at Bayfair has prompted community outcry, with a newly formed advocacy group staging a protest this weekend. Members of the Bayfair Underpass Alliance says it is time to call on the big guns - the Government. Reporter Kiri Gillespie finds out why, who the group represents and just how far they are willing to go.
A protest to save the Bayfair underpass has been organised in a desperate bid to bring the Government on board.
Bayfair Underpass Alliance member Heidi Hughes, who also represents transport advocacy group Greater Tauranga and is standing for an at-large seat in the Tauranga local body elections, said she and others were not convinced of the reasons why the underpass was destined for demolition next month.
The Hands Off Our Underpass protest is expected to take place at the underpass on Sunday afternoon.
Hughes said the underpass was a critical link in the city's transport network for pedestrians and cyclists. 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.
Without it, people will be expected to navigate the busy intersection above via four pedestrian crossings.
The Bayfair Underpass Alliance is 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.
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Hughes said the group was confident of a large turnout.
When original plans to complete the B2B without an underpass were revealed by the Bay of Plenty Times in 2016, Hughes collected 963 signatures in a petition to keep the accessway. The transport agency appeared to take on board the concern, announcing in 2018 they would include an extended underpass. However, in July the transport agency confirmed the underpass was no longer a viable option because, at $33 million, it would cost too much money.
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The underpass is expected to be demolished in September.
"As soon as they take it away and try to get everyone across at [traffic] lights, it's going to be chaos," Hughes said.
"It will either maroon pedestrians to one side of the road or encourage people to hop in their cars."
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Hughes said their protest needed to be heard at a Government level.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford said MP Angie Warren-Clark had raised the issue "and I'm well aware of community concern".
"NZTA has advised that there was a massive blowout of the costs from $13m to $33m and they are working with Tauranga City Council to investigate alternatives to address the community's concerns."
Transport agency acting director of regional relationships Ross I'Anson said the agency, too, was aware the removal of the underpass was "disappointing for many people in the community".
However, a new underpass was not affordable in what was currently a highly constrained funding environment, "but we remain committed to finding an appropriate solution for the community".
"We are working with Tauranga City Council to explore if an overbridge north of Concord Avenue is a viable option to improve pedestrian and cycling connections across the wider network, and cycle prioritisation through the roundabout."
L'Anson said the agency wanted to remind people that temporary pedestrian and cycle diversions were in place near the underpass and for people to take care through the construction site.
The Tauranga City Council was not available for comment before deadline.
The Hands Off Our Underpass protest starts at 1.30pm on Sunday at the Matapihi side of the Bayfair underpass on Maunganui Rd. People are encouraged to bring signs and placards with messages of support. The protest will end at 2.30pm with a mass cycle through the underpass.