Safety improvements to State Highway 5, between Tarukenga and Ngongotahā, will help prevent "simple mistakes" becoming tragedies, says Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter.
Genter was in Rotorua yesterday,to visit the sites where work has begun on two significant projects.
A total of $14 million is being contributed from the regional package of the NZ Upgrade Programme to improve safety along SH5 and reduce congestion at the SH5/SH36 roundabout. This is in addition to the $1m provided by Waka Kotahi through its Safe Network Programme for the design of the safety improvements.
"Far too many people might encounter a serious road crash here in New Zealand so these kind of basic improvements are essential for making our roads safer," Genter said.
"People are always going to make mistakes when they are driving and what we want is the road environment to be forgiving so when they do make mistakes it doesn't result in a serious injury or fatality."
The highway safety improvements – such as widening the road to accommodate a new wide centreline, median and roadside barriers, rumble strips and shortening the existing passing lane – will cover more than 8km from near Tarukenga to the SH5/SH36 roundabout.
Roundabout improvements include an additional lane around the roundabout and on all approaches to provide a safer and more efficient intersection.
Between 2015 and 2019 there were two deaths, four serious injuries and 23 minor injuries resulting from crashes on this stretch of road - most caused by vehicles running off the road or head-on collisions. There has also been a fatality this year.
While in town, Genter spent time speaking to Higgins employees who will be performing the work required.
"It looks like the project is in excellent hands. Obviously, there's always a bit of disruption during road upgrades but I think the community will be much better off once they are completed.
"This is particularly important from a tourism perspective and also just connecting our regions," she said.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said it was great to see the projects getting under way.
"We've lobbied long and hard for commitments from central government and its transport agency to improve our key Rotorua roading corridors, including at Ngongotahā and Te Ngae.
"Key drivers have been the need to not just improve safety and increase capacity to relieve congestion, but also to future-proof our district and support proposed development.
"Getting the commitments and funding provides certainty that developers need to make decisions to go ahead with the likes of housing which, as we all know, is much-needed in Rotorua.
"So it's great to see all this work now getting under way and we look forward to further improvements in future on Fairy Springs Rd and through Ngongotahā Village," she said.
Progress Ngongotahā member Bob Martin said the group had been in contact with the New Zealand Transport Agency during the planning stages and it was pleasing to see work getting under way.
"It's something we've been waiting for about 20 years. When they first came out with the principle plan we said 'hey we welcome it', as far as Progress Ngongotahā is concerned.
"The traffic backs up right through Ngongotahā in the mornings. This will be the third roundabout put in, I hope it works this time. One of the things with the current roundabout is, heading towards Rotorua, you actually have to look over your right shoulder to see what's coming, because of the angle. That slows things down as well.
"Having that extra lane into the roundabout will help."
The project is expected to take 12 months to complete.
The Safe Network Programme is a $1.4 billion, three-year initiative to make 870km of New Zealand's highest risk, high-traffic state highways safer by 2021 with improvements like median and side barriers, rumble strips, and shoulder widening.