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New data on safety value of roading improvements in Waikato

Recent major roading projects in the Waikato have helped lead to clear and significant road safety benefits, according to new data presented to the multi-agency Regional Land Transport Committee today.

Committee chairman Norm Barker also said the Waikato has a $1.7 billion programme for building strategic transport corridors through the region, but with certainty of only about $700 million worth of funding going forward.

A report to the committee, from Environment Waikato deputy chief executive Clare Crickett and travel behaviour change coordinator Jo Carling, said: “There would appear to be a very clear justification for the construction of the Waikato Expressway in terms of the safety and social cost benefits it is likely to return.”

Ninety people died on Waikato roads in 2007. It is estimated that up to 67 per cent of all Waikato road fatalities take place on state highways, compared to a national average of 55 per cent. The Government’s national Road Safety to 2010 strategy estimates 42 lives a year could be saved by road engineering improvements nationwide.

The report gave a detailed outline of crash-related issues on the state highway network in the Waikato, including a prominence of head-on collisions, the prevalence of heavy commercial vehicles and high traffic volumes in general.

“Currently, most of SH1 and SH2 through the Waikato are ranked collectively as high or medium-high risk – this means that they have the highest density of fatal and serious crashes per kilometer,” the report said.

Two-lane roads with no median separation posed the greatest risk, and the push to fully implement Waikato Expressway proposals aims to further shift traffic from these sorts of roads on to purpose built highways.

Data presented to the committee showed clear and significant reductions in crashes and fatalities after major roading projects around the region, such as the already completed Waikato Expressway Mercer to Longswamp upgrade on SH1.

“We can extrapolate from this data strong evidence that the construction of major roading projects on key routes through the Waikato will reduce the number of fatalities and serious injury crashes on these routes,” the report said.

Cr Barker said the committee and central Government agencies now needed to turn their minds towards how the $1 billion funding gap will be met.

“We are confident of future funds from central Government to help us do that but we would like to start locking things in now to give more certainty to all who use the region’s roads.

“The Waikato’s roads are heavily used by inter-regional freight operators and national tourism operators, for example, so improving the region’s roads is not just about catering to local needs.”

Two of the planned expressway projects – the Hamilton and Huntly bypasses – are projected to cost more than $700 million between them and funding agency Land Transport New Zealand has expressed a need for more information about the current proposals.

Land Transport NZ chief executive Wayne Donnelly, who appeared before the committee today, stressed that his organization accepted both bypasses were part of the regional land transport strategy and that he did not want anything deleted from the strategy.

However, he stressed there would be a need a collaborative effort between the Waikato and the new state transport funding agency being formed to find ways of advancing the two bypasses.

Cr Barker told Mr Donnelly that he and other RLTC members were very open to making a strong collaborative effort to get the expressway completed. “I am sure you will get it from this Regional Land Transport Committee.”

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