Hawke's Bay MPs will keep pushing for a $100 million-plus upgrade of State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo in the hope the speed limits will be reviewed again when the job is done.
Napier MP, Minister of Tourism and former Minister of Police Stuart Nash, whose electorate extends to half the 90km covered by a speed-limit reduction announced on Friday, says lower limits aren't the "ultimate" answer, but while they're in place motorists should stick within them.
"Speed is unforgiving," he said.
"We know it is the people who are the greatest risk of causing crashes are those who break the law by speeding. We know what happens when someone is doing 120km/h, when the speed limit is 100, or even 80."
In the 20 months from February 2019 there were nine deaths on the highway, all but one between Esk Valley and the Rangataiki Plains, where the speed limit will be cut from 100km/h to 80km/h from February 18.
There have been none since policing of the highway was stepped-up and a "Stay Alive on 5" billboard campaign started in October last year. But Nash said: "We shouldn't have to increase policing to make people slow down."
He and Hastings-based Tukituki MP Anna Lorck worked closely on getting Waka Kotahi NZTA to advance a business case for major work, and Nash said: "We know it needs to happen."
It does not yet have a timeline but is taking place amid what they say is a near-doubling in the annual maintenance budget for the highway after years of under-investment following implementation of the National Party's Roads of National Significance (RoNS) in 2009, less than six months after returning to the Treasury benches at the start of nine years leading the Government.
At the time, seven projects in and around Auckland, Waikato, Tauranga, Wellington and Christchurch were singled-out for major investment, but in 2013 the Auditor General said prioritising the "RoNS" put pressures on other road maintenance.
No Hawke's Bay road were ever added to the list, and Nash said: "It can't be one and not the other. I've driven, or been driven, on that road all my life, there's no doubt it has gotten better, but it's a road that gets hammered, with the logging trucks and the heavy transport."
Over the years there have been many major improvements to the roads, cutting the safe travelling time to under 1 hour 50 minutes, with such major projects as building of the Mohaka Bridge, between Te Pohue and Te Haroto and opened in October 1962, and the nearby Titiokura deviation completed just to the east in 1966.
"I remember my grandmother saying it used to take her two days to get to Taupo," he said.
Lorck said she and Nash advocated hard to fast-track the business case, and added: "The $100 million major upgrade of SH5 is the answer to fixing this dangerous highway – not reducing the speed limit."
"It is the bad drivers speeding and breaking the law – not the majority of drivers – who are causing fatal crashes," she said.
"We expect that the reduced speed limit will be reviewed as the upgrade work is carried out. We are both committed to saving lives and getting the major upgrade approved as fast as possible."
Ikaroa Rawhiti MP Meka Whaitiri, whose electorate also stretches west to Mohaka Bridge but also north-and-south for over 500km of State Highway 2, says she stands "alongside" her colleagues in the drive to upgrade SH5.
The biggest major works project between Esk Valley and Rangataiki in recent years was the Dillon's Hill realignment in 2008-2010, costing $1.8 million.
Most significant work in recent years involved extension of passing lanes and sealing programmes, but with increasing concerns about potholes and other surface deterioration.