Bay of Plenty leaders are calling for urgent safety improvements on one of the country's deadliest state highways.
Tauranga mayor Greg Brownless, Western Bay District Council mayor Garry Webber and Bay of Plenty regional council transport committee chairman Stuart Crosby are frustrated with the slow progress they believe is being made in improving safety on State Highway 2.
Omokoroa residents have launched a petition calling for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council to make upgrading the Omokoroa to Te Puna stretch of State Highway 2 a higher priority.
The regional council's transport committee prioritises how money should be spent in its area and the NZ Transport Agency then makes a final decision.
The highway between Katikati and Tauranga is considered one of New Zealand's most dangerous roads. From 2012 to 2016, 18 people died and there were 35 serious crashes and 95 minor crashes. On Saturday there were three crashes, including one resulting in serious injuries.
Crosby, a former Tauranga mayor, agreed that planned upgrades were taking too long.
Read more: Omokoroa residents start petition to prioritise 'dangerous' stretch of State Highway 2 after serious crash
"The process of delivering roads in this country needs a complete review," he said.
"It's unbelievably frustrating to get improvements done on the state highway network and unbelievably bureaucratic," he said.
"Clearly that stretch of road from Tauranga to basically beyond Katikati does require significant work."
However, Crosby said it was not as simple as "find the money and do it".
"In my view, this country has a major problem in delivering infrastructure, especially in major growth areas like the Western Bay of Plenty."
Crosby said the answer to speed the process up was "not analysing everything into a state of paralysis".
He also said housing developments were not helping and local councils "need to have a good hard look at their contribution to congestion".
Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless agreed "NZTA just needs to get on and do the job".
"Having seen the increase in traffic over the years, there must be action now. Look at the time it took to get the Te Puna roundabout. I hope that is not an omen for things to come."
However, Brownless did not think the local council should contribute to state highway upgrades as taxes already covered it.
Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber said the council had consistently called on central Government and NZTA for upgrades to the highway since Omokoroa development was marked as a growth node in 1991.
In 1995, SH2 was supposed to be four-laned with a significant interchange at Omokoroa within five years, but this still had not happened, he said.
Webber believed the council's role in the Regional Land Transport Plan was often overlooked by "bigger players".
"Frustrated is a polite way of referring to it," he said.
"Western Bay has invested a lot of money in local roads. It's our highest venture spending. What more do we need to do?"
The NZ Transport Agency's director of regional relationships, Parekawhia McLean, said the Minister of Transport was developing the Government Policy Statement on land transport and had indicated it would provide a different emphasis for the transport system.
"We can't pre-empt what will be in the new [policy statement] or give further detail about specific transport projects, including State Highway 2 Waihi to Tauranga, until [it] is released.
"We understand the concerns about State Highway 2 and we are committed to working closely with communities, key stakeholders and the Government to deliver solutions that meet transport needs now and into the future."
McLean said roading projects had a process in place that needed to be followed to ensure landowners and other affected people have their say.
"Of course we also need to keep a close eye on how our organisation is functioning and how we are working with our partners to continually improve."
However, McLean said improving the transport system was not a job the transport agency could do on its own.
"We're committed to working with others – contractors, truckies, members of the public and local government – to make travel more reliable and safer."
Transport Minister Phil Twyford told the Bay of Plenty Times the new Government Policy Statement on land transport would set a much higher priority on safety.
He said a draft of the policy statement was expected to be released for consultation later this month.
"However it's important to note that the transport agency board makes all operational decision about the priority and timing of roading projects at arms' length from the Government," Twyford said.
"We understand how strongly Bay of Plenty residents feel about safety issues on this stretch of highway."
Have your say
The Bay of Plenty Regional Land Transport Plan, which will determine the importance of local roading projects, is open for submissions which can be made on the regional Council's website or online
. Public consultation closes on March 23.
Regional Land Transport Plan timeline
February 19 – Public consultation opens
March 23 – Public consultation closes
April 11-12 – Hearings
May 7 – Deliberations
June 8 – Regional Transport Committee makes a recommendation to the regional council
June 21 – Regional council considers plan for approval
June 30 – Final plan submitted to NZ Transport Agency
August 31 – NZ Transport Agency releases National Land Transport Programme
Source - Bay of Plenty Regional Council