Ropes and roundabouts

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersNovember 11, 2022

In last week’s editorial, Jumping the Gun, I referenced the installation of a new roundabout at Katikati as part of the current project to install a series of six roundabouts at intersections along SH2 between Katikati and Ōmokoroa.

With the completion date for the SH2-Rea Road/Tetley Road intersection at Katikati having passed – ignoring, for a moment, the need to reseal the road as mentioned last week – the next in line to be finished is the intersection of SH2 and Morton Road, with an expected date of mid-2023. By about 2025, intersections at Sharp Road, Lockington Road/Matahui Road, Apata Station Road and Esdaile Road/Pahoia Road will follow. And between them all, 14.1km of flexible median barrier will be installed.

So, by the end of it, this route will have a reduced limit of 80kph, a series of roundabouts, barriers between them and only a couple of opportunities in either direction to break out of single file (which is moot if everyone’s limited to 80kph).

First off, the roundabouts are a great initiative. I’ve always felt far better control is needed at intersections along New Zealand’s busiest state highways than simple exposed turning and merging lanes or flush medians. The intersection of SH1 and SH29 is a prime example, and it doesn’t take much effort to think of dozens more.

The median barriers, too, are a good initiative. Many people, especially motorcyclists, don’t like the flexible wire-rope barriers. Still, there is a science behind them and, as the occupant of a vehicle, you’re likely to fare better in a crash than with rigid barriers. Regardless, the barriers mean right-hand turns will be eliminated on this route. The project manager I spoke with last week suggested that with the roundabouts being 3km apart, driving up to the nearest one to do a U-turn may, in many cases, be quicker than waiting for gaps in the traffic to turn right. We’ll have to wait and see.

Of course, there are gaps in the plan – both literal and figurative. While the route has been widened over the past few years, the seven bridges along this stretch of road are clear bottlenecks. They remain untouched despite the contractors’ proposals for widening or replacement, I’m told. Moreover, it’s impossible to continue the barriers over them due to their narrow width. So, seven points in this stretch where mirrors are most likely to touch, and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be the odd impatient idiot who will try to use the opening they present to jump traffic. It’s an acknowledged weakness and concern and one that doesn’t yet have a clear solution, says the project manager.

Then one must wonder why, if traffic will run in a single file with widened lanes and shoulders split by a median barrier, the speed limit cannot be revised upwards. If not to 100kph, then at least to 90kph to allow heavy transport to run as quickly as it can. Many of the narrow roads branching off this route have open-road speed limit signs. It boggles my mind.

Interestingly, Transport Talk ran a story this week detailing how Kiwis don’t support having speed limits cut as part of road safety measures. Of course, we’ve circled that roundabout before…

All the best,

Gavin Myers