No-one would dispute that safety on our roads is paramount, and that the tragic loss of life on State Highway 5 suffered by Hawke's Bay communities in recent years is a burden that's too much to bear.
Safety is the number one priority in our Regional Transport Plan out for consultation at present, and the focus of the Government's Road to Zero 2020-2030 Road Safety Strategy.
However, in our view it is a "cheap trick", even cynical play, for Waka Kotahi to reach straight for speed reduction on State Highway 5 as the answer, when the real issue is years of under-investment in undeniably essential improvements to the corridor, along with irresponsible behaviour by a small minority of the driving public.
Hawke's Bay deserves better than that. State Highway 5 is literally our lifeline connection to the north, and a critical freight route on which the regional economy depends.
Regional leaders were briefed by the Transport Agency about the proposal to reduce the speed limit to 80 km, from Eskdale to just south of Rangitaiki, only last week.
The consultation process has been "fast-tracked", cutting out a public engagement step, so that the move can be Gazetted by Government after "formal consultation" closes on May 9, 2021.
The 'business case' we were presented with to support the move was incredibly thin. We are repeatedly told by Waka Kotahi that a 'whole of system' approach needs to be taken to road safety, factoring in road user behaviour, policing, safer vehicles, road and roadside attributes, i.e. not just driver speed.
Yet it seems that in this case, road speed alone is being relied upon as a cheap and quick solution to a more systemic problem.
We were told that 82 per cent of deaths and critical injuries occur on our roads with an infrastructure risk rating of medium or high, with that rating being based on the nature of the road, sight lines, road cambers, shoulder widths and the like.
State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo has a "high", and in places a "very high", risk rating, again pointing to the real solution being realistic levels of investment in corridor and road improvements, not just speed reduction.
We asked for detail on how much it would cost to make targeted investments in the high-risk areas along the corridor, such as at Tarawera, Te Haroto and Te Pohue, to achieve an equivalent saving in lives and serious injuries, so our communities could make an informed decision with all the options in front of them.
We were told that the Transport Agency didn't have those numbers, and (worse) there would be no point in working them out as there is no money for road investment of the likely scale required, coming from Wellington.
We asked how, given the average current driving speed on State Highway 5 is 80km/h, and the real issue is the minority of drivers who drive too fast, reducing the speed limit to 80km would actually make any difference? Again, the answer received was elusive.
Enforcement was said to be key, but there would be no additional investment in policing the new speed limit.
In short, this simply isn't good enough.
We cannot let road safety be used as an excuse to avoid the real problem here, at everyone's expense but the Transport Agency's, and to the detriment of our regional economy.
We will be making a submission on the proposal and we strongly encourage members of our Hawke's Bay communities to do so as well. (www.nzta.govt.nz/Hawkes-bay-speed-review)
Written by Sandra Hazelhurst, Mayor, Hastings District Council, Tania Kerr, Deputy Mayor, Hastings District Council and Martin Williams, Chair, Hawke's Bay Regional Transport Committee