It’s not often that local government will publicly disagree with a state agency, but Waka Kotahi’s proposed speed limit changes to State Highway 5 has managed to achieve that.
Put simply, Waka Kotahi’s proposal to implement a blanket speed limit of 80 km/hour from 100 km/hour across two-thirds of the Napier–Taupo Road lacks an overarching strategy of investment – now or in the future.
Road safety is our top priority and I have long advocated for the need to invest in SH5 with other Hawke’s Bay leaders.
A recent Te Pōhue community meeting voted unanimously against the proposal. That community is rightly concerned that if these proposals are introduced it will only increase frustration and create more dangerous driving. The community said the issue was not just speed but poor driver behaviour.
I understand dropping the speed limit reduces the risk of motor vehicle accidents and lowers the severity of injuries when accidents do occur, but what’s clear about this proposal is that it’s the result of significant underinvestment in other safety areas, such as roadworthiness and design.
I could accept a reduction if there was confidence that Waka Kotahi had a clear plan of investment that would see the safety issues addressed and it allowed traffic to resume flowing at open road speeds up to 100km/hour while offering improved safety.
SH5 is a vital route for goods and services between our region and the rest of the North Island. This is going to have significant economic consequences for our region’s businesses. Locals who live along SH5 are already telling me that this is going to have a huge impact on them.
The Te Pōhue community meeting disagreed with Waka Kotahi’s assertion that the lower speed limit would only add 41 seconds more to their journey. They estimate it will add 15 minutes each way.
One truck driver, who addressed the community meeting, said that he stood to lose a quarter of his income if the lower speed limit is introduced because it meant one less trip to deliver wood to Whirinaki each day.
Others spoke of going into town once a fortnight instead of every week and considering withdrawing their children from early childcare education because each journey would be much longer.
Yes, speed limits need to be lower around the villages of Te Pōhue and Te Haroto, with a pull-off area introduced at Tarawera for north-bound traffic – but without a clear plan to improve the road, a blanket ban is not going to reduce lives being lost on SH5.
Sixteen people were killed in accidents on this highway between 2010 and 2019. Every time a fatal accident is reported, the community has issued urgent calls for the road to be improved – they have not called for a blanket speed limit change. They are making it quite clear that this isn’t a satisfactory response.
Apathy is the biggest risk the region faces when it comes to this proposal. The sense of fait accompli that the decision has already been made. I would encourage anyone who has a view about this proposal to make a submission to nzta.govt.nz/projects/hawkes-bay-speed-review.
It’s imperative we act decisively against this proposed speed limit, to ensure that Waka Kotahi makes its decision with our community’s best interests at heart, so that Hawke’s Bay will not be worse off economically and socially.