Bypass this

In Magazine Editorial, Gavin Myers, May 20225 MinutesBy Gavin MyersMay 4, 2022

You could say one thing about driving across New Zealand – there aren’t many parts that leave you feeling robbed of good scenery. Unfortunately, it can often pass by unnoticed by those in the driving seat.

Recently, I was in the car with someone who, for a change, found themselves a passenger. “You know,” they said, “I almost forgot how nice it is to look out the side windows.”

“Even better to pull over every once in a while and take it all in. But how many of us really get the chance to do that day to day?” I responded. If anything, it’s an excellent excuse to get a break from the bumps and ruts that make up the roads we call our state highways.

Yes, New Zealand’s roads are shocking. There’s not enough investment in their maintenance, and, despite the reality, heavy road transport is fighting an uphill battle against ideology at the highest level. We’ve written it all before. But perhaps there are some glimmers of hope for a future in which the importance of road transport and good roading infrastructure is taken seriously.

At the end of March, just as our April issue was off to the printer, Transmission Gully was finally opened – albeit a full two years behind schedule, hundreds of millions over budget, and yet with a “significant amount of work to complete all aspects of the project” (NZTA’s words… Read the story on page 16).

As I said in my weekly EDM editorial at the time, the enormity of the task undertaken cannot be scoffed at. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the setbacks – let’s call them – that plagued the project.

Nonetheless, the road is now open to the benefit of all travelling through the region, and the only way to look is forward.

In the meantime, that same week, works on the SH3 Mt Messenger bypass were greenlighted (story on page 10). For those unfamiliar with this particular section of road, Mt Messenger is a fairly tight, gnarly 15km-odd of twisting tarmac that’s steep on both sides with a short but narrow tunnel near the summit. Slips, bad weather and black ice all make an appearance, too. In short, it’s a pinch point that needs fixing on what is a core road.

The 6km bypass, another significant roading project on the table for several years, will join Uruti and Ahititi to bypass the abovementioned irritation and no doubt significantly ease this part of the journey to and from Taranaki. Construction is expected to conclude in 2026 and will cost $280 million – almost as long as was planned for Transmission Gully, but a bargain by comparison.

The Takitimu North Link project is another significant example currently underway. It will add a new 14km, four-lane corridor between Tauranga and Omokoroa, effectively bypassing the existing SH2 run into the city via Bethlehem. Construction will be split into two phases, first to Te Puna, then to Omokoroa. Expected cost? Some $655 million for stage one.

No doubt, many more roading projects are needed to futureproof the country against the transport needs of a growing population and address other significant pinch points in our crumbling national roading network. Imagine a Taupo to Turangi bypass and another just down the road at The Sisters. Imagine… well, let’s quit while we’re ahead.

Whether or not these two new bypasses run to budget and are delivered on time, the biggest bypass by far will be the one that needs to be avoided. Waka Kotahi, the government – whoever it is down the line – has to ensure that in 50, 30, 10 years’ time, these new roads don’t suffer the same ‘bypass’ of maintenance spending and start falling into the same state of disrepair as so many other national roads around the country.

Well, at least there will be some new scenery to take in.