Permanent speed limits set on Saddle Road

4 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJanuary 25, 2019

The NZ Transport Agency has set permanent speed limits for Saddle Road/Oxford Road/Woodlands Road/State Highway 3, one of the main bypass routes for the closed State Highway 3 Manawatu Gorge.

Due to the heavy increase in traffic on the route following the closure of the gorge, and the subsequent rise in crashes, emergency speed limits were put in place in January 2018. The emergency speed limits expire this week, requiring permanent speed limits to be set.

From today the permanent speed limits are:

  • 80 kilometres per hour for State Highway 3 from Woodville to Woodlands Road, Woodlands Road, Oxford Road, and Saddle Road from Hope Road to Mangaatua Stream.
  • 60 kilometres per hour on Saddle Road from Ashhurst to Mangaatua Stream.

“A consistent 60 kilometres per hour speed limit will reduce driver mistakes and their consequences on the Saddle Road hill,” NZTA director safety and environment Harry Wilson says.

“No crash resulting in death or serious injury is acceptable, so it‘s important we take every opportunity to address the risk. Fewer crashes will also mean fewer closures, which will increase the reliability of this important route.”

Since the closure of the gorge in April 2017, traffic volumes on Saddle Road have increased from 150 to 5100 vehicles per day. Crashes have increased by 88 percent, including one fatal and two serious crashes.

“The increase in traffic and crashes, along with the narrow and windy nature of the road, means 60 kilometres per hour is the only safe and appropriate speed for Saddle Road. This is in line with the speeds people currently travel along the road,” Wilson says.

“These permanent speed limits will only increase travel times by approximately 51 seconds across the 16-kilometre route, but it will help make sure people get where they are going safely.”

The setting of the permanent speed limits follows engagement with the police, the AA, and the Road Transport Forum, and consultation with the public.

Wilson says during consultation, the public asked NZTA to consider more and longer passing lanes and slow vehicle bays along Saddle Road, improved signage, and more safety improvements to the roads.

“The Transport Agency is looking into opportunities suggested by the public to further improve the safety of the route. There are some safety improvements currently under way, including a stock underpass on Saddle Road, realignment of curves at Woodlands Road and work to mitigate traffic noise and safety issues in Ashhurst.

“During consultation we were also asked about the permanent replacement route for the gorge. The proposed new route across the Ruahine Ranges is progressing, with construction expected to get under way in 2020 and completed in 2024.”

Wilson says because the replacement route will not be built for five years, the lower speed limits were a way to make this bypass route safer now.

The new permanent speed limits are estimated to reduce the number of crashes by 20%. This will reduce the amount of time the road is closed due to crashes and reduce inconvenience to drivers.