There are fresh calls for the Takitimu North Link to be built in full as new data shows how much safer the Tauranga Eastern Link is than the highway it replaced.
The data shows the number of deaths, injuries and crash factors on Te Puke Highway between 2010 and July 30, 2015, and on Tauranga Eastern Link between July 31, 2015, and April 26, 2021.
There were far fewer crash factors on the Tauranga Eastern Link, which reflected massive decreases in deaths, serious injuries, minor injuries and total crashes.
A road safety campaigner said the data was "pretty compelling" and a transport agency manager said the Tauranga Eastern Link was working as intended.
One MP said the data showed State Highway 2 was a "death trap" while another said some Western Bay residents refused to drive on it out of fear.
There were 317 crashes on the Te Puke Highway over that five-year time period, with 579 crash factors like poor observation or fatigue coming into play. On the Tauranga Eastern Link during the next five years, there were 75 crashes and 126 factors.
The total number of people injured on the Te Puke Highway was 135 compared to 15 on the Tauranga Eastern Link. There were nine fatalities on the former and one on the latter.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency Bay of Plenty system manager Roger Brady said the data, released under the Official Information Act, was expected.
"The new TEL was built to significantly improve safety, reducing the amount of death and serious injury crashes in the region, and is delivering on that."
Before the Tauranga Eastern Link was built, traffic on the then State Highway 2 had a high crash rate, traffic moved slowly and there was no room for growth.
The Tauranga Eastern Link was a relatively straight, flat, multi-lane state highway whereas the Te Puke Highway (formerly SH2) was windy and had a single lane in each direction.
The new road also had many grade-separated interchanges that allowed safe access to collector roads and residential areas. In contrast, Te Puke Highway had many access roads and private driveways directly adjoining the 100km/h rural road.
"The data shows that safety interventions such as wire rope barrier are critical to reducing deaths and serious injuries on state highways," Brady said.
"We have multiple-barrier strikes on the wire rope each month. Without this wire rope, the outcome would likely be vastly different."
Construction of the 21km four-lane wire rope median-divided Tauranga Eastern Link took the best part of five years to complete and cost $455 million.
It was the largest roading project in the Bay of Plenty before it opened to traffic on August 3, 2015.
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said the data showed why the Takitimu North Link, SH2 between Ōmokoroa and Tauranga, should be prioritised.
"You couldn't get a starker picture of the danger that SH2 presents to our community," he said.
"It's a dreadfully dangerous piece of road and the data shows that. Then you compare it to the TEL, which is one of the safest stretches of roads in the country," Muller said.
"There's a reason that you build these roads. It helps to get people from A to B quicker and it keeps people safe."
The first stage of the Takitimu Northern Link is already under way. It's 6.8km long and will connect SH29 Takitimu Drive to SH2 west of Te Puna.
However, the second stage, between Te Puna and Ōmokoroa, will not be built and was unlikely to be started within the next decade.
In June 2021, Transport Minister Michael Wood and Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson announced the Government would no longer fund the second stage.
Originally, the two stages were expected to be completed by 2027 and cost $933m. Stage two would cost $455m of this.
Muller said doing a cost-benefit analysis made sense in any situation but he was irate that the Takitimu Northern Link wasn't being built to its originally planned specifications.
"That road had gone out to tender and it'd be well through the build stage if we stuck with the original timeframe," Muller said.
"It's only just started and now it doesn't go all the way to Ōmokoroa. There are certain things that should be above politics, frankly.
"This road is a death trap, it needs to be fixed. Everybody knows it and the Government is dragging ts feet."
Eighteen people died on the notorious stretch of road between Tauranga and Katikati between 2012 and 2016, the highest death toll of any state highways.
Another 35 were seriously injured and 95 received minor injuries on that section of SH2, according to transport agency crash data.
Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said he knew people who were too scared to drive the road.
"They won't drive it themselves so they need to rely on family members to drive them in and out of Tauranga city," he said.
"I've spoken to a couple that will not even be driven on that road. They will not use it because they are fearful for their lives.
"That's not how it should be for people in provincial New Zealand."
Simpson, the National Party associate transport spokesman, said in his view the data showed why new highways fit for purpose today and in the future like the Tauranga Eastern Link should be built.
"Sticky-plaster solutions, which is what's happening on the TNL, isn't actually the answer but is a short-term fix," he said.
Fix the Bloody Road campaigner Andrew Hollis said there was a clear trend that there were fewer incidents on a "brand-new highway than on a dusty old B-road."
"It's pretty compelling."
Hollis said, in an ideal world, that a four-lane highway would be built past Katikati but he thought the Government had other priorities.
"State Highway 2 just needs to be completed."
Transport Minister Michael Wood said improving road safety was one of his priorities and, while the National Government promised projects, it never delivered any.
"In contrast, we increased funding to over $600m to deliver Takitimu Stage 1, with construction well under way. It's action, not words that count."
Wood said $50m had been invested to protect the route for TNL Stage 2 so construction could start when appropriate.
Community members have been invited to meet the crew working on the Takitimu North Link project this weekend as construction gets underway on the first of eight bridges to be built.
The information session will be held at Bethlehem Hall on May 28 between 11am and 2pm.
Piling will begin from next week for about six weeks, and the bridge will take around 12 months to build.