Transport Minister Simon Bridges met a hostile crowd at Katikati demanding to know why, after 40 years, the town's bypass was still not on the Government's work programme.

Anger at the low priority to build the $42 million Katikati bypass sparked last night's meeting at which Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, Mr Bridges and senior New Zealand Transport Agency engineers faced a large and passionate audience of residents.

The meeting was organised before Tuesday night's crash outside the Aongatete Coolstores which killed five Tongan packhouse workers, but the repercussions of the tragedy inevitably surfaced.

Nearly 400 people crowded into the war memorial hall to heckle and question the priorities of the New Zealand Transport Agency, with naturopath Jenny Hobbs highlighting the social impact and the impact on retailers.


She said retailers could not greet customers with an open door and could not hold conversations because of the noise from passing trucks.

Mrs Hobbs said that the fumes and dust were health hazards and the school bike racks were nearly empty because it was too dangerous to ride to school.

Another resident invited the officials to go to town and try to cross the road. "Even with the pedestrian lights you will know how scary it is to cross that dangerous road and then you will know why we need the bypass."

Like many other statements made at the meeting, it was greeted by loud applause and cheers. Midway through explaining the safety investigation an engineer from the transport agency was booed back to his seat by the crowd.

Mr Bridges led the meeting, acknowledging and naming the five men who died when their car was hit by a logging truck as it crossed SH2.

The tragedy had made the safety issues on the highway so much more real and personal for the community, he said shortly before the meeting.

Addressing the crowd, Mr Bridges said that, when he made the $520m funding announcement in April, there was a lot of openness to the bypass.

Since then the transport agency had firmed up its opinion that it saw a strong basis not to see the bypass built as the preferred option but he stressed that no final decisions had been made.

He said the experts were still working through the options and still listening to what the residents were saying.

Mr Bridges posed the question, should the agency build the bypass and make it more attractive for trucks to use SH2 or does it make sure that the more attractive route from Auckland is the Waikato Expressway and over the Kaimai Range?

"If that was the case, in truth, in my view, there is a very strong argument against the bypass."

This was greeted with loud boos.

One of the transport agency engineers said that, over the next six months of investigations into safety options, they would be looking at putting right-turning bays at each intersection between Tauranga and Waihi where possible.

Last night's meeting followed a combined Waihi Beach and Katikati community boards meeting about three weeks ago, followed by a workshop by the agency on the Northern Link.