The government made two significant state highway announcements within a week. The first was the announcement of a new motorway in Tauranga which was followed last week by the announcement of a significant $278 million upgrade to the 32km of SH2 between Pokeno and Mangatarata. This project, like the Mangatawhiri Deviation completed in 2008, are examples of exactly the kind of projects I feel the government should have been focusing on for the last eight years instead of some of the massively expensive Roads of National Significance.

This project should significantly improve safety on what is one of the country’s most dangerous roads, so much so that in 2011 the NZTA even lowered the speed limit on all but the new Mangatawhiri deviation to 90km/h. According to the press release from Simon Bridges, there have been 18 fatal crashes causing 34 deaths in the last five years alone – although a quick look at the info on the NZTA website says there were 15 fatal crashes over 10 years (to 2014).

As part of this upgrade three new deviations will be built, west of Mangatawhiri, at Kopuku and at Maramarua. In addition, the road will be widened to three lanes with two of them westbound towards Auckland. They say the upgrades will be designed so that a future a fourth lane could be added if/when it’s needed. Presumably this means also widening the existing Mangatawhiri deviation which was designed with future widening in mind. The NZTA will also install other safety features such as wire rope median and side barriers.

SH2 Maramua Upgrade 1

I’ve written before about how the Mangatawhiri Deviation has been a huge success. Not only did it come in 6 months ahead of time and $2.9 million (6%) under budget. It had a significant impact on safety as this graphic shows.

Mangatawhiri Deviation Crash record

From memory this project – or at least a previous iteration of it – was meant to have been started some years ago but it was put on hold and funding for it was diverted while attention shifted to the RoNS and particularly the Waikato Expressway.

Below are the traffic volumes on the road over the last 20 years. As you can see volumes were relatively flat for much of the last 15 or so years but have picked up a little recently. The NZTA say that on some days with holiday traffic, volumes can top 25,000.

Mangatawhiri Traffic Volumes

The press release from the government is below.

The Government will invest $278 million to upgrade State Highway 2 between Pokeno and the SH25 intersection, Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced today.

Work will begin this year on the design, consents and property purchase for a long-term overhaul of the road that will be carried out in five stages over several years.

The 32 kilometre long stretch of road will be widened to three lanes, with two lanes for traffic heading west towards Auckland. The work will also be future-proofed, enabling the road to become four lanes if needed.

“These upgrades will help ease congestion and improve journey predictability, making a huge difference for the local community, the freight industry and for people travelling north after a weekend on the Coromandel,” Mr Bridges says.

Along with the extra lane, a new roundabout will be built and four interchanges separating state highway and local traffic will be constructed.

“Improving safety on this popular holiday route is a key part of this project. Over the last five years there have been 18 crashes resulting in 34 deaths and serious injuries.

“Evidence tells us the majority of crashes on this stretch of highway are either head-on or where the vehicle runs off the road so median barriers and guard rails will also be installed.

“The long term goal is to reduce death and serious injury crashes by 80 per cent over 20 years.

“We also want to provide safer choices for cyclists and ensure local people have safe access to their homes, schools and businesses,” Mr Bridges says.

Construction is expected to get underway in 2017/18.

I can’t help but think that had this approach been taken with the Puhoi to Warkworth RoNS, much of it could be in place by now and saving lives compared it being 2020 or later depending on when it finally starts construction. This is of course what was proposed with Operation Lifesaver.

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44 comments

  1. That’s about 30 people who would probably be alive if the NZTA had prioritised this instead of less urgent work.

    Glad it’s happening.

    1. You have to ask how this squares with the new health and safety act, I would think knowing ignoring a known hazardous stretch of road in favour of more marginal improvements elsewhere would be viewed rather dimly. Of course, those deaths/injuries pre-date the current law so it obviously wouldn’t apply.

  2. I had a horrifying experience on this road near Pokeno a couple of years ago. I was travelling to Auckland from Tauranga and an approaching car lost control on a sweeping curve just a it passed us spinning and skidding to a stop in our rear view mirror. No collision fortunately but could have been terrible for us them and other oncoming traffic. Bring on those rope barriers.

  3. I’m not sure I agree – build 4 lanes now!
    It seemed stupid to not build 4 lanes when they did Mangatawhiri and it seems stupid not to build 4 lanes now…

    1. I’m with Jimbo on this one. This road carries both carries a very large volume of traffic, and visually appears to be easy road building land. Four lanes to the SH2 / SH27 intersection or the SH2 / SH25 would be much appreciated.

      I would expect that the cost is moderate, and the rewards great compared to many of the RON’s projects.

      One of the nice things about dual carriageways, is that one side can be taken offline for road works, avoiding the cost and safety risk of working around live traffic.

  4. I’ve been driving this road since the late 1970’s, and have always hated this stretch of SH2. Up and down, left and right, a total lack of safe overtaking opportunities means that driver frustration builds and builds, until you do something silly that you regret. It’s like a third-world goat-track, not a state highway. It should have been 4-laned a long time ago. Please please please consider 4-LANING the entire stretch to Mangatarata. This WILL save lives, as well as a much more stress-free journey. Surely the additional cost of 4-laning vs the existing plan is only a small percentage. This plan is great to see something happening, but there are still not enough Eastbound overtaking lanes. If you’re going to do it, do it properly. I’d happily pay my fair share. Maybe a give-a-little page to raise the additional funds to 4-lane the whole stretch!?

      1. Why? That will work against the safety benefits the $278m is supposed to achieve. And 110Km/h as against 100Km/h over the full 32Km of this scheme would only save 1¾ minutes.
        Totally not worth it unless part of a plan to raise the open-road speed-limit generally. Maybe when all vehicles become driverless. Not before.

          1. Even after the changes the road will not a motorway, so (fortunately) it won’t be a candidate for a 110km/h limit.

            Anyone coming across a single-carriageway road for the first time would think that we were totally insane to drive tonnes of metal at each other at a closing speed of 200km/h (plus tolerance x2) separated only by a painted line; 220+km/h is even worse!

            Mr Bridges says his top priority is safety: it’s hard to see how it can be safer to allow faster driving.

  5. With the Tauranga Northern Link and this project being announced within a week, it seems to me that the proposed Kaimai Road Tunnel has been ruled unfeasible for the medium term. Both of these projects were proposed around a decade ago, but never advanced beyond the planning stage because it was deemed that they would have been unnecessary if the tunnel went ahead. As SH2 is going to remain as the primary route for Auckland-Tauranga traffic for the foreseeable future, I imagine we’ll see a couple more upgrades announced within the next decade or so, with the elephant in the room being the Karangahake Gorge.

    1. K gorge is gorgeous! People really just need to slow down and enjoy it. I know that’s a hopeless hope as there is something inherently impatient making about driving a car, but still it’s worth repeating now and then.

      And freight; well that’s already got a tunnel.

          1. If we what the same level of road safety as in Switzerland, we should properly use similar speeds (60km/h) https://goo.gl/maps/EUAPjhKNRo22
            The difference between the quality of our roads is not the reason for our higher level of road death, it is more the legal speed that is more and more making the difference.

      1. Patrick, trucks use this route, follow one and see how tight and difficult it is for them, and with the overhangs they often have to cross the centre line on the tighter corners, not safe at all. This route is pretty, but the majority of users do this trip daily, and its no fun for them.

        1. Plenty of truck use the Switzerland SH4 route along side lake Lucerne between Siskon and Brunnen. https://goo.gl/maps/WtM6A3zTXvL2
          This is the direct route to Zurich from Italy. Have a good look at Google maps there is a pedestrian crossing by the building, do you think they could allow this in NZ.
          I’ve driven these roads. K gorge is an equal to this road. It has stunning views for the passenger and narrow road condition for the driver.

    2. According to Google Maps, travelling via SH 27,24 and 29 is slightly quicker. That will all change once the Waikato Expressway is complete, the quickest way will then be to take the expressway then turn off onto SH 29.

      SH 2 is such a peculiar highway as there are many places where it is not quicker at all to take SH 2

        1. It’s good to have some choice with three different ways to travel between Tauranga and Auckland

          Let’s hope the truckies keep off the scenic route and use the new expressway, the one the government is spearheading mostly for the trucking lobbyists

  6. Does anyone know why there are 2 westbound lanes proposed in the plan, but only a few eastbound passing lanes? Is there lots more westbound traffic or something?

    1. I’m guessing because holiday traffic returning to Auckland is likely to back up rather than traffic leaving Auckland. All that will come to nothing though unless the SH1 northbound onramp is capable of two lanes.

      1. The SH1 northbound on-ramp is already two lanes from SH2. No doubt there will then be a push to extend the third “slow” lane all the way over the hill…

    2. Ha this is so close to the road I first grew up in, Rimu Rd at the Pokeno end. It’s certainly changed a lot since this photo, circa early 1970 possible late 60’s, I have from the air: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/80131140/Pokeno%20Mill%20and%20SH2/Early%20mill%20days.jpg and later on this one of the old SH1/SH2 interchange take around 1982: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/80131140/Old%20SH1%20and%20SH2%20intersection/Old%20Pokeno%20-%20Thames%20turn%20off%201982.jpg.

      If you look at the B&W pic, old route of SH2 through church and house, you can see above a narrow local access road. This was often used by speeding motorist to pass slower traffic up SH2, story of primary school kids waiting for morning bus with bags on and near the road, car shoots up and half through their bags etc, dust in the air, luckily no one hurt. I actually got slightly clipped by dude hooting up over 100 while I was crossing on a motorbike as a teen (I wasn’t quite in the right position & too lazy/in a rush to reposition so could see better down the bad visibility road as it corners..then I couldn’t see the exit across the road either so slowed a bit).

    3. Because eastbound has a longer flatter peak, westbound has a steep peak at ends of holiday weekends especially.

    4. I thought it was because people remember the delay at the end of their trip more than the beginning.

      Or am I being too cynical, if that’s a thing.

    5. I could speculate two lanes the whole way eastbound might create traffic jams at the end of the upgraded section of road (SH2/SH25 intersection). So not worth spending money on the extra eastbound capacity until if/when it is also worth upgrading SH25 to the Coromandel? Whereas with two lanes westbound it is anticipated there is already enough capacity on SH1 at the peak times for this road (end of holiday periods) to absorb extra westbound traffic capacity. Also the PDF on the NZTA webpage linked from within the post says there are delays eastbound on only 5 days per year, vs 12 days per year for westbound.

  7. Odd how they can find $798m for a just couple of road schemes, yet baulk at $200m a year for rail. If more of the freight was on rail it’d be safer and there’d be less need for 4 lanes.

  8. Good project, and I’m glad NZTA aren’t wasting money 4-laning it, that’s what the Waikato Expressway is for.

    1. I think some of the SH2 deviations have gone over some of the Pokeno-Paeroa railway formation, haven’t they Mike?

      1. I think you’re right, Jamie, but I’d need to check. The formation has certainly got less visible over the years.

  9. You’d think they’d prioritise eastbound traffic given the number of Aucklanders fleeing the housing market now.

  10. When a stretch of railway is deemed unsafe above a certain speed – either because of its basic topography or because of some subsequent change – then a speed limit is imposed as a risk mitigation, regardless of the effect on operation. The culture is very much “Safety first”, with the sanction of ‘enforced shutdown’ of operations for any serious breach, threatened as the likely response.

    When a stretch of highway is deemed unsafe above a certain speed – either because of its basic topography or because of some subsequent change – then a speed limit may be imposed as a last resort but more usually the preference is simply to exhort drivers to “drive to the conditions”, regardless of the very real risk of mishap. The culture is very much “Speed first”, with the sanction of major government-funded upgrade promised as the likely response.

    Rail – at risk of legally being shut down for any safety-breach considered avoidable.

    Road – protected against all consequences of continual safety-breaching and prioritised with almost unlimited funding with no expectation that accidents must be eliminated.

    Why the difference? Why isn’t rail (the safer mode) given priority funding for much-needed upgrades? Why haven’t the roads been ‘shut down’ over their atrocious safety-record?.

    1. Well observed Dave. Another oddity is the different standards applied for air and road travel. No failure is acceptable with air travel, but we cheerfully expect to kill a person a day on the roads and that’s fine. If 300 people died each year flying, jobs would be lost, fleets would be grounded… It’s crazy, nothing gets a free pass like private vehicle and road freight system.

  11. There seems to be an obsession by the Roading Authority to build new roads to motorway standards when an upgraded road is required. I live near to the Waikato Expressway near Cambridge and the new section of Highway One has necessitated the closure of several roads and the building of bridges for the remainder. There are excellent alternatives for cyclists but they are not banned from the expressway as they would on a motorway. If it is a limited access highway but built like a motorway why not call it one?? There are parts of the expressway further north that have no alternative access for residents , pedestrians and cyclists so these portions would have to stay a highway.

    A word of advice….. on the long straight on the expressway between Tamahere and Hautapu I recommend turning your speed limiter on if you have one the speed creeps up dramatically if not very careful!! I also anticipate drivers will go to sleep at the wheel here too. Better roads are not always safer.

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