It has been more than a year since Welcome Bay Lane was closed due to safety concerns for cyclists. In that time New Zealand Transport Agency and Tauranga City Council have spent thousands on reports and reviews on how best to remedy the situation. Now, with action imminent, reporter Kiri Gillespie reveals how much more this new solution will cost, why some think it will not solve anything and why others fear lives could be lost.
Plans to reopen a "dangerous" Tauranga intersection which has been closed for more than a year have been labelled "crazy" and "absurd" as true costs are revealed.
Works to redesign the meeting point of Welcome Bay Rd and Welcome Bay Lane will begin on Monday.
Welcome Bay Lane was closed by Tauranga City Council in September 2018 after concerns were raised for the safety of cyclists cutting across the slip lane's entry while following a cycleway.
Yesterday, the New Zealand Transport Agency confirmed to the Bay of Plenty Times it was planning to spend about $300,000 on "improvements" to reopen the lane.
This comes despite independent consultants Aurecon, as part of a $39,500 ratepayer-funded review, recommending the lane not be reopened because it would be too "dangerous". This also follows Tauranga City Council spending $16,500 on a Viastrada safety audit which highlighted 25 safety concerns in and around the Maungatapu Underpass project. The transport agency-led project was responsible for the roading changes in Welcome Bay.
Cyclist Ivan Davie agreed with the experts - it was too dangerous to reopen the lane.
"It's crazy to spend that amount of money to then end up having the same situation," he said.
Davie originally raised concerns in July 2018 that someone was going to get hurt due to the area's new roading layout, a result from the $45 million New Zealand Transport Agency Maungatapu Underpass.
Yesterday, he questioned the logic of forcing Welcome Bay Rd traffic to rapidly slow to enter Welcome Bay Lane while not providing extra space for traffic continuing on towards the Hammond St traffic lights.
"It's astounding. You look and they are saying 'let's promote cycling' but in terms of [making cycling safe], they seem to be lacking."
Davie felt Welcome Bay Lane should remain closed, or cyclists stopped from crossing it.
"If the view I have can stop someone going under a vehicle, then raising this [closing Welcome Bay Lane], that's the right thing to do."
Welcome Bay Rd resident Cameron Childerhouse said it would only be a matter of time before someone was killed.
"I don't think reopening the road is going to make an ounce of difference. It's almost going to cause more problems because it's actually going to bank traffic back, we will end up with a number of nose-to-tails."
Childerhouse has already experienced countless crashes outside his home due, he believes, to the road layout and people's travelling speed. Welcome Bay Rd's speed limit is 60km/h.
Spending $300,000 to reopen Welcome Bay Lane was "absurd", he said.
"The ideal situation would be to close it and allow cyclists to go straight ahead and allow access across from further up.
"That whole set-up right there is going to kill someone."
Transport agency project manager John McCarthy said the organisation's initial recommendation, following the Viastrada's 2018 safety audit, was also that the lane should remain closed.
"However, due to strong demand from the public and elected members, an independent engineer designed a solution that allowed the road to be reopened while ensuring cyclists' safety."
The safety improvements have been through an independent safety review process, in collaboration with council, and are specifically designed to improve safety at the entry and exit points of Welcome Bay Lane, McCarthy said.
Welcome Bay Lane will be reopened to cars. However all heavy vehicles – including buses – will still need to use the signalised intersection on Welcome Bay Rd.
"To ensure the safety of cyclists, the improvements will slow down traffic turning into Welcome Bay Lane and we recognise this may impact on traffic using Welcome Bay Rd at peak times."
Compulsory stop signs are expected to be installed as well as a traffic island to slow down vehicles and limit the size of vehicles able to access the lane.
Other safety works were new signage, road markings and a "speed cushion" on Welcome Bay Lane, he said.
In May, Welcome Bay councillor Bill Grainger told a council meeting the Welcome Bay Lane saga was a transport agency "botch-up" and has long advocated for a reopening of the road. He and councillor Rick Curach offered their own designs as possible solutions but these were considered to be too dangerous.
Welcome Bay Lane is expected to reopen in November.
What was the problem?
Welcome Bay Lane used to be the original Welcome Bay Rd leading up to the Hairini roundabout. However, when Welcome Bay Rd was diverted as part of the Maungatapu Underpass project, part of the road became a free turn and slip lane for westbound traffic. A green painted cycle lane cut across the entrance to Welcome Bay Lane, creating concern for potential cyclist and car crashes.
Timeline of Welcome Bay's traffic woes
• June 22, 2018: Maungatapu Underpass opens to traffic.
• June 25, 2018: The Turret Rd access from Hairini St is closed due to concerns about drivers' safety.
• July 31, 2018: Welcome Bay cyclists raise concerns someone will be killed at the Welcome Bay Rd and Welcome Bay Lane intersection, where a cycle lane cuts across a free turn.
• August 22, 2018: An independent safety review of the $45m Maungatapu Underpass is commissioned by Tauranga City Council.
• September 28, 2018: Access to Welcome Bay Lane is closed to traffic, after concerns from cyclists.
• October 15, 2018: The safety review highlighted 25 concerns involving the Maungatapu Underpass, prompting the future closure of access to Welcome Bay Lane until alternative options are found.
• December 1, 2018: Motorists caught on camera mounting the verge to drive around the cordon and up Welcome Bay Lane, sparking concern from residents.
• March 26, 2019: Frustrated Welcome Bay driver and cyclist Alan Ryan prepares to arrange a group to physically remove the cordon but is warned by police it would be a criminal offence to do so.
• May 14, 2019: Tauranga City Council considers recommendations from Aurecon and Stantec consultants, who said the best option was to not reopen Welcome Bay Lane, but offered suggestions for what safety measures should be put in place if the council decided to.
• August 5, 2019: Aurecon experts reject councillor Rick Curach and Bill Grainger's designs to fix Welcome Bay Lane.