Six years ago the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) began work to make safety improvements to SH3 between Te Awamutu and Ōhaupō, as part of an overall project between Te Awamutu and Hamilton which was deemed one of the country's most dangerous roads.
The plan was to remove some of the passing lanes as it was the only stretch of highway in the country with passing lanes for northbound and southbound traffic, side by side, without a median barrier and with access to properties.
It wasn't a popular decision for many motorists, who enjoyed the relatively free run to Hamilton, with plenty of passing opportunities. But, despite public meetings and opposition to the safety project, NZTA continued, and even expanded, the scope of work.
Over the previous 10 years between 2004 and 2014 there were 126 reported crashes, resulting in five deaths and 10 serious injuries.
In the middle of 2015 NZTA announced further plans to build a roundabout at the intersection of State Highway 3 and State Highway 21/ Airport Rd.
The agency said the new layout was designed to improve safety and access to current and future industrial development in the airport area as well as the Mystery Creek Events Centre and Fieldays.
They added that says safety improvements were a big driver in the project, with the intersection being the scene of 24 crashes, including five fatal or serious injury crashes in the previous five years.
In January 2016, the section of high-risk highway on SH3 between Hamilton Airport and Ōhaupō had its turn for upgrades, the four-lane section of road being remarked as three lanes with a flush central median to separate oncoming traffic.
A wire rope barrier was installed at the central changeover point.
About the same time even more plans were announced by the Safe Roads Alliance, to be carried out in two stages.
Stage one included the installation of side barriers and a new section of widened centreline.
Stage two was to install sections of median barrier along the route.
At the time the Alliance reported that 11,000 vehicles travelled the route each day, and it was expected to grow – increasing the risk of crashes.
By June 2016, Simon Bridges was opening the new airport roundabout – but the mostly negative feedback on other aspects of the various projects was increasing.
In an editorial I noted the rising level of frustration on the travel to and from Hamilton, and the increased risk-taking because of the lack of passing opportunities.
I think that has improved – the risk-taking, not necessarily the frustration.
There was also frustration that the physical work was taking longer than expected – blamed by NZTA on weather conditions during construction.
During 2017 work was completed, but in August that year the section from Te Awamutu to Ōhaupō was still on the list of New Zealand's most dangerous state highways – based on statistics from the start of 2012 until the end of 2016.
In that five-year period there had been two deaths, four serious injuries and 25 minor injuries on that stretch of road.
Information requested by the Te Awamutu Courier from NZTA show a decline in the number and severity of fatal and serious crashes in the following four years until the end of 2020.
The data is provided from the Crash Analysis System and at this stage, the 2020 data is treated as incomplete.
Over the entire stretch from Te Awamutu to Hamilton highway for the five years until the end of 2016 there were four fatal crashes, 26 serious crashes and 74 minor crashes, resulting in seven deaths, 30 people suffering serious injuries and 108 people suffering minor injuries.
On the same highway for the four years until the end of 2020 there were no fatal crashes, 14 serious crashes and 82 minor crashes, resulting in no deaths, 14 people suffering serious injuries and 107 people suffering minor injuries.
Despite the Covid-19 lockdown last year, the unconfirmed 2020 numbers were the worst of the four-year period, with five serious crashes and 23 minor crashes and five serious injuries and 36 minor injuries.
2019 was the safest year with no serious crashes and 25 minor crashes resulting in 30 minor injuries.
The annual average of deaths and serious injury of 3.5/pa for the past four years is under half the average of 7.4/pa for the previous five years.