New traffic lights at the intersection of two of Tauranga's busiest highways have resulted in complaints, delays and traffic resembling "a dog's dinner" and there are fears it could get worse when the school holidays end.
But authorities say the lights at Te Maunga where State Highways 2 and 29A meet in Mount Maunganui aren't entirely to blame as inconsiderate drivers are also responsible.
On September 28, a new set of traffic lights went live at the previous Te Maunga roundabout site as part of the Baypark to Bayfair project.
Since then, there has been increased congestion in the area with traffic sometimes queued for more than 5km waiting to get through the intersection. Some motorists have complained of delays "never seen before", while others say they'll now avoid shopping at Bayfair Shopping Centre.
Matapihi resident Jessica Barnes said traffic congestion at Te Maunga and Bayfair had become five times worse than it had been before the lights were installed.
"The lines now stretch through Bayfair heading on to Hewletts Rd and into Mount Maunganui past Golf Rd, or back up from the lights to Sandhurst off-ramp on the expressway, or back up on SH29A all the way to Maungatapu Bridge," she said.
"It's an absolute dog's dinner and [with] school holidays ending this week, wait for the mayhem to get worse again from next week onwards."
Barnes said the original roundabouts weren't great to start with "but at least traffic was moving".
"I have heard of many, many crashes, mostly people getting rear-ended since those lights went in. These queues are at a standstill mostly."
A motorist, who would only be known as Rebecca, said it took her 16 minutes from an estimated 30 minutes to get from Turret Rd to Baywave last week because she "cheated".
"I won't sit in the left lane when I can go way further up in the right lane and know I can get in front of a really slow car or truck in the left lane."
In other feedback to the Bay of Plenty Times, motorists were so put off by the congestion several said they had stopped shopping at Bayfair Shopping Centre.
On the Bay of Plenty Times' Facebook page, Michelle Kemp said she was avoiding the area as much as possible, which was a shame because she liked Bayfair but was now considering shopping at The Lakes instead.
Bayfair manager Steve Ellingford said this was a concern and he hoped people would consider the shopping centre a destination venue with shops, dining and amenities still worth travelling to.
Ellingford said he had already noticed a distinct increase in people accessing the shopping centre from its Farm St and Maunganui Rd entry points. An additional 100 car parks at the rear of the centre by Farm St had also been well used lately.
Papamoa Residents and Ratepayers' Association chairman Philip Brown said the traffic lights had choked up the intersection to such an extent he'd "never seen delays this long before".
"Travel times are now unpredictable and this has encouraged motorists to use the local roads [Papamoa Beach Rd and Truman Lane] to avoid the intersection."
Brown said the increased traffic did not mix well with children riding to school or crossing the road.
He felt some options that might help include Pāpāmoa to SH29A traffic using Truman Lane; drivers travelling from Bayfair to Pāpāmoa to keep the left lane running continuously; and no right turn from SH29A on to the expressway - rather SH29A traffic could use Truman Lane to enter the expressway from Sandhurst Dr.
Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency portfolio delivery manager Darryl Coalter acknowledged concerns regarding the introduction of the traffic lights at Te Maunga.
There have already been at least 12 complaints from people "with concerns about the impact of the changes on the length of their commute". The majority of this feedback was received on Tuesday, Coalter said.
The feedback has prompted the transport agency to review driver behaviour and improve signage, particularly along SH29A, "to provide clear guidance about what lanes should be used to enable better movement of traffic".
"While the majority of road users have been very patient with the changes and considerate of other road users, there have been some examples of motorists not following the road rules or temporary traffic management signage, resulting in further delays."
Coalter said the transport agency would continue to monitor traffic flow and adjust the timing of traffic signals where needed. This data would be later be assessed for potential improvements.
He said the changes were expected to take a few weeks for people to get used to, and people were still asked to avoid the area if possible, avoid peak times, or allow for delay.
The lights are part of the wider Baypark to Bayfair project, also known as Baylink, and created construction space for retaining walls to help hold the interchange bridge, which is to be built over SH2. This was not possible with the previous roundabout in place due to a lack of width, Coalter said.
The traffic lights are expected to remain in place until work on the SH2/SH29A interchange bridge is under way in early 2022.
When asked whether the project was on time and on budget, Coalter said there had been multiple factors influencing the project's cost and timelines, including the addition of the underpass. Once the overall project was resequenced, the agency would have a clearer idea of completion timelines and project costs.
James Wickham, manager of the Tauranga Transport Operations Centre, said queue lengths had been longer - "terrible" at times - since the lights were activated and lanes reduced. He said the impact on normal travel times would not be known until schools returned next week.
While construction continued, he said he did not "think there is going to be any relief [for motorists]".
"This is just the geometric constraint of the area ... it's the best of a bad situation."
On the Bay of Plenty Times' Facebook page, dozens of people shared their experiences of travelling through the intersection.
Sylvia Dovaston said: "Scary that it took 1.15hr from Te Puke to Tauriko at 6.30am on Monday last week in the school holidays. Absolutely dreading it when school is back next week. Will try Welcome Bay and hope that won't be too busy that early in the morning."
Jasmine Barry said: "Freaking frustrating!! Especially with 3 kids in the car took about an hour and then went back the other way and was just as bad!"
Hayden Laidlaw said: "IMO the new lights have helped the flow of traffic from Bayfair to Papamoa so I have been quite happy with them."
Michelle Kemp: "I'm avoiding the area as much as possible. A bit of a shame cause I liked going to Bayfair but now I'm considering the Lakes for my shopping now."
Check what traffic will be like and keep up to date
Traffic updates: journeys.nzta.govt.nz/traffic
Journey planner: journeys.nzta.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 4 HIGHWAYS (0800 44 44 49)