Safety concerns have prompted plans to build a 3km shared cycleway and footpath on State Highway 33 at Ōkere Falls.
Traffic travelling too fast, danger crossing the road, and increases in traffic volumes and pedestrian numbers in the area during summer prompted NZ Transport Agency Waka Kotahi to plan the shared path.
Consultation has now begun on the project, a 2m wide concrete and chip seal path run alongside the highway from Hamurana Rd to Ōkere Falls, with four pedestrian islands at locations in between.
The design and construction of the path were expected to cost $900,000. It would be funded by the transport agency's Walking & Cycling Activity fund.
Acting regional manager of infrastructure delivery Jo Wilton said SH33 was identified as a "high-risk rural road" and the transport agency had been working to make the highway safer since late 2017 as part of the Te Ngae Junction to Paengaroa upgrade.
From late 2016, prior to construction on the project, the transport agency talked to community representatives about the road and learned of the safety concerns.
Wilton said people were worried about traffic travelling too fast through Ōkere Falls, Mourea and Paengaroa, and there was concern it had become unsafe to cross the road at Ōkere Falls.
Last year, the transport agency lowered speed limits in the area and introduced an electronic speed sign. It also investigated options to make it safer for people to walk and bike between Hamurana Rd and Ōkere Falls, Wilton said.
The path would use some of the existing road shoulder between Hamurana Rd and the Waipuna Bay boat ramp. Roadside barriers or line markings were expected in some locations to help separate traffic from users.
"By reducing some of the current shoulder widths will help reinforce the new lower 60km/h speed limit in the area."
Construction could begin as early as late April and take a few months, subject to weather and Covid-19 alert levels.
However, specific detail around how it would be constructed and potential impacts had yet to be confirmed, Wilton said.
Justin Hutton, from River Rats Raft and Kayak, said traffic "does get quite crazy in and around the Ōkere Falls store area".
"There's a lot of people parking there on the wide shoulder. If the proposal was to reduce the amount of parking in the area, that could cause issues."
However, Hutton said the transport agency had been great with consultation and he was supportive of the proposed safety measures "providing it wasn't increasing traffic".
"A combined walkway, that has the potential to reduce traffic, is great. We are pretty lucky to have such an amazing jewel in our crown with Ōkere Falls, the scenic reserve. And the Ōkere Falls store is definitely a bit of a hub for the Ōkere Falls area, so anything that makes that more accessible, we would support."
Rotorua Lakes Council infrastructure group manager Stavros Michael said all users of the Ōkere Falls corridor stood to benefit.
"For the local community, it means enhanced amenity and safe access while visitors will experience a better perception of safety and greater enjoyment of the area during their visit."
Michael said the council was also considering potential safety improvements to the SH30/33 intersection and pedestrian safety for schools along SH30 near Rotorua Airport.
"We know that pedestrians, cyclists and people looking to use other modes of transport feel more comfortable when they are separated from traffic and council has documented significant uplift in walking and cycling since the network has begun to take shape.
"The addition of a shared path on State Highway 33 aims to achieve the same safety and connectivity objectives as the urban shared path network and we are strongly in support of these proposals."
Mayor Steve Chadwick she had heard a number of safety concerns from the community over the years and she was confident in the Rotorua Lakes Council and transport agency's partnership in the safety improvements, which include the Hemo intersection upgrade, SH5 and changes along the SH33 to Paengaroa corridor.
"I have continued to push for investment in our transport network and we now have more than $100m worth of upgrades in progress," Chadwick said.
"Now is the time for the community to have their say on this particular proposal. I encourage residents to provide feedback to make sure Waka Kotahi have good local insight and the right information to finalise the shared path design."
Hamurana Road to Ōkere Falls shared path and pedestrian islands are expected to provide:
• Improved safety for residents, school children and families walking/biking alongside SH33.
• Pedestrians and cyclists are separated from state highway traffic.
• Better connectivity between Mourea and Ōkere Falls.
• Pedestrian refuge islands provide a safe place in the middle of the road to wait before crossing the road.
• The shared path and pedestrian islands provide visual reminders of other potential road users in the area.