A couple of weeks ago an impressive 12-page full-colour brochure arrived in my letterbox and I can only assume that it went to every other household in the lower North Island.
The production cost of this publication can only be guessed at but no problem, it was funded by Waka Kotahi, known to most of us as the New Zealand Transport Agency. This is the organisation that has gone from 32 communications staff costing $2,600,000 per annum to 68 staff costing $8,200,000 during the term of the current Government. Given their generous funding, they are well equipped to indulge in a colourful campaign to convince us that turning a perfectly good highway from Featherston to Masterton into a kiddies’ playground is a good idea.
This 40km route consists of long straight roads with few hazards apart from the towns of Greytown and Carterton. Parts of the route enjoy long passing lanes and traffic density is rarely an issue. Anyone with a valid licence knows how to deal with towns – observe the speed limit, respect the pedestrian crossings and keep your eyes open. Currently the speed limit is 100km/h everywhere apart from in the towns and the accident rate is minimal. In fact there have been only four fatalities in the ten years to December 2019.
But no, the organisation previously charged with making our roads less cluttered and more efficient has changed its focus. Waka Kotahi is now on a mission to fill the roads up with wire rope central barriers, roundabouts and rapidly changing restrictive speed limits, and it seems that this particular route is being served up as the prototype for the rest of New Zealand.
Wairarapa is ideally situated for this function. Apart from those who live there (and there’s not many) and a few who use it as the quick way from the Hutt Valley to Hawkes Bay, nobody else knows it’s there and even fewer go out of their way to find out. To an Aucklander, the place might as well be on the moon, so it’s an excellent location to put in place a draconian roading regime that can be perfected in isolation, then rolled out to the rest of the country while nobody’s looking.
This plan has to be seen to be believed. There are no fewer than 21 raised pedestrian crossings on the 40km route and work has already started on three of them despite the fact that the brochure states that community feedback will be sought before construction funding is applied for. The truckies are going to love these, but wait, there’s more.
Speed limits. In Greytown the limit will go 80, 50, 40, 50, 70, 80 within about two kilometres, while in Carterton it will go 80, 50, 40, 50, 70, 80 over about four kilometres. Outside of these towns a maximum 80 limit will apply on the long, straight roads and the passing lanes have gone. They’re also planning some wonderful electronic technology that will temporarily drop the main road limit from 80 to 60 when it detects a vehicle turning from a side road.
Now the few of you who are familiar with this road will have picked up the elephant in the room. Yes, just out of Featherston to the South is the tortuous Rimutaka Hill, whose 100 km/h limit was designed in the days when drivers were trusted to slow down to an appropriate speed for the corners. Waka Kotahi better not read this story because if they do, before we know it the whole hill will have a 30km/h limit.
This article first appeared in the September 2021 issue of NZ Autocar Magazine.