Western Bay of Plenty residents are threatening to blockade all the main routes into Tauranga if steps aren’t taken to make State Highway 2 north of the city safer.
Te Puna resident Sean Lett says such actions would be a last resort after making submissions to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and ‘bombarding’ government ministers with emails.
“We want to show we’ve tried all the nice and cuddly avenues first,” he says.
Sean was among several residents who live near State Highway 2 between Te Puna and Omokoroa who met at Top Shot Bar in Te Puna on Tuesday night to discuss their issues with the road.
“We had more than 120 people attend, and more than 300 apologies between Andrew [Hollis] and I. So that’s a lot of angry people.”
Residents in the area are frustrated at the high number of crashes on the highway, a number of which have resulted in fatalities.
Sean says the idea of blocking the road has been discussed, and resulted in some people on social media saying it shouldn’t happen, or that they would ignore the blockade and drive straight through it. But he’s unrepentant.
“They’re not the ones who run up to the end of their driveway with a blanket and first aid kit when they hear the smash, and see people lying on the ground screaming. I’ve seen a lady with a smashed sternum and smashed shoulder – she was not in a good way.”
Protest organiser Andrew Hollis started a Facebook group on Wednesday afternoon – ‘Fix the BLOODY Road’ – which already has several hundred members.
“The motivation behind it is what happens to my phone whenever there’s a fatality out between Te Puna and Apata, when the community starts asking: ‘Is it one of us?’” he explains.
He says the road toll is ‘horrendous’ on that stretch of highway, and now he and others are organising themselves to push their case to the rest of the community and the government.
There isn’t a timeline as yet on when roads might be blocked, but Andrew is already putting steps in place to do it.
“I’m talking with the police about the safety measures required at the moment, and organising the permits. Police are happy for us to block it, so long as we follow the rules. I’ve told them we won’t settle for half an hour, we want a good hour or two hours.”
He also says they’ll be aiming to block not just State Highway 2 north of Tauranga, but the Eastern Link, Pyes Pa Road, and Tauriko – all of the major routes into the city.
“We want to spend a decent amount of time marketing and letting people know, so the regional council has ample time and everyone knows about it. If agencies take notice and prioritise us, we won’t have to resort to blocking the roads.”
Sean says the long-term solution is to get on and four-lane the highway. In the short-term, though, he’d like to see the speed reduced.
“I’d like to see it 70-80km between Katikati and Tauranga, except maybe for that new bit with the median barrier.
“I don’t mind crawling to work in the morning in that traffic, because I feel safe. But when it’s flying past my house at 100km an hour I don’t.”
Acting Western Bay of Plenty road policing manager Senior Sergeant Wayne Hunter says they do not have a position on the protest, but will do what they can to make sure everyone involved is safe, including their own staff, protesters, and motorists.
Last year State Highway 2 was closed at the Wairoa Bridge for around 15 minutes while a number of private citizens walked across it in protest over competing Waitangi Tribunal claims.
It resulted in a traffic snarl-up that wasn’t cleared until two hours later.
At the time, Senior Sergeant Ian Campion told SunLive police and the NZTA were advised of the proposed march by the organisers. Their role was to ensure the lawful right to protest was upheld, while ensuring the safety of all involved.
“Given the bridge is particularly narrow with no pedestrian facilities, police requested the road be closed for a short period of time due to safety concerns. The road was closed to ensure the safety of everyone.”
SunLive contacted the NZTA at the time to find out what the guidelines are around private citizens shutting down the Wairoa Bridge, or any section of state highway.
“State highways may be temporarily closed for planned events such as parades or sporting events or for unplanned events where public safety is a priority,” says a NZTA spokesperson.
“Planned events require an applicant to detail the purpose of the event, provide a description of the course to be followed, communicate with affected stakeholders such as local authorities, and clearly show how traffic, participants and spectators will be managed on the day.
“For planned events the Transport Agency requires the procedures contained in the Transport Regulations to be followed. For what is deemed unplanned or emergency events, the road can be shut by police or the fire service under the Local Government Act and the Fire Service Act.”
Under the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004, pedestrians must, at all times when practicable, remain on the footpath if one is provided. Non-compliance may result in a fine of $35.