Some proposed safety improvements along a dangerous stretch of road have been welcomed by the local community, but suggestions of traffic islands have made some unhappy.
Earlier this month Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency consulted on plans for a 3km shared cycleway and footpath along State Highway 33 at Ōkere Falls.
It was proposed the path run along the side of the road opposite the lake for about 650m before users crossed the state highway using a refuge island at Waipuna Boat Ramp.
It would run on the lakeside from there to Ōkere Falls Store and there would be more refuge islands outside Whangamarino School and the store so people could cross.
Resident Marcus Wilkins told the Rotorua Daily Post while he supported plans for a shared path, he preferred an underpass outside Ōkere Falls and traffic lights outside Whangamarino School over refuge islands.
But the transport agency (NZTA) says that is not in the scope of the project and won't be on the cards in the next three years.
In a letter sent to NZTA on behalf of eight other residents, and supplied to the Rotorua Daily Post, Wilkins asked for the proposed path to run on the lakeside in its entirety as well as the refuge island alternatives.
In the letter, Wilkins said, "we are happy to forgo the two refuge islands knowing a safe crossing for all is coming".
Wilkins told the Rotorua Daily Post he opposed traffic islands because he believed they were dangerous.
"There could be three or four kids sheltering there at a time. Someone is going to play chicken and the traffic is often fast and furious.
"I've got nothing but the safety of our people in mind. This has got all the makings of an accident."
He said the area attracted walkers and kayakers alike and was a destination in its own right.
He said having an underpass instead of refuge islands would keep traffic moving.
But said traffic lights outside the school would be worth it because they would be used rarely - two to three times a day in his estimate.
"It will be used very little but gives a huge amount of security to teachers of that school ... What is the cost of one death on the road?"
In a letter sent to Wilkins and provided to the Rotorua Daily Post, NZTA's senior project manager Malcolme Flattery said a pedestrian underpass was out of the scope of the project.
"Although your suggestion ... does have merit, this type of major multimillion-dollar infrastructure project is well out of the scope for this rural safety improvements project and has not been investigated as an option."
In response to Wilkins' additional comments, NZTA's regional manager infrastructure delivery, Jo Wilton, said the proposal was part of wider safety improvements made since 2017 to State Highway 33 from Te Ngae Junction to Paengaroa.
These included a wide centreline, flexible roadside safety barriers, widening and sealing the road shoulder, new signs, line marking, rumble strips, a new passing lane and lower speed limits.
NZTA had sought feedback about the road before these improvements, she said.
After speeds were lowered last year NZTA investigated ways to make it safer to walk and bike between Hamurana Rd and Ōkere Falls leading to the current proposals.
Wilton said while NZTA would not rule out the possibility of an underpass in the future if technically feasible, no funding was currently available to investigate or construct the underpass.
She said it was unlikely to be prioritised high enough in the National Land Transport Programme to get funded in the next three years.
"There are a number of important safety projects around the country, and we need to prioritise the timing of, and funding available for, these so we can make the biggest difference in reducing deaths and serious injuries.
"It is also worth noting that there is a risk people would still cross the road as opposed to using the underpass at this location because it would be more direct, and now the speed has been dropped to 60km/h it may be perceived as less dangerous by pedestrians and cyclists."
She said refuge islands improved safety in many ways such as reducing crossing distance and time, making pedestrians more visible to oncoming drivers and vice versa, and creating a space for pedestrians to wait and cross.
Consultation on the proposal closed on March 19 and NZTA received 30 pieces of feedback - 19 in support, three against, and others with questions.
On behalf of the Lake Rotoiti Residents Association, Jim Stanton told the Rotorua Daily Post it had long advocated for speed restrictions and safety improvements along the stretch of state highway.
"[The association] accepts that the proposed plan seems to provide the most satisfactory solution within the constraints of the available budget.
"However, the community will continue to harbour misgivings over the potential dangers presented by the proposed pedestrian refuges along a very busy highway and the need to cross in several places via these refuges."
Stanton said association members previously supported a motion to lobby NZTA for an under or overpass but these options were rejected due to cost and engineering concerns.
But he said given the area's increasing popularity and significant traffic volumes, the association believed the option should be a future funding priority.
Whangamarino School principal Lorraine Northey said the school would be happy with any safety measures NZTA implemented.
The shared path would allow children to commute to school by bike or on foot safely and refuge island would mean they could safely cross the road to access Lake Rotoiti, Northey said.
"It's all about the safety and wellbeing of our children."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick was approached for comment for her thoughts on NZTA's proposal and to asked what reactions she'd had from residents.
In response, a communications staff member referred the Rotorua Daily Post to comments made by the mayor and council's infrastructure general manager Stavros Michael and reported in the Rotorua Daily Post early in March.
In those comments, Chadwick said she was confident in the work the council and NZTA were doing to address safety concerns district-wide and more than $100m worth of upgrades were in progress.
Michael said the council was aware of suggestions for an underpass and understood the rationale for these suggestions but also technical, environmental and financial considerations that made such a proposal problematic.