Marlborough Express - Need for discussion around coastal highway issues

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

As MP of the fourth-largest general electorate in New Zealand, I spend a considerable amount of time travelling up and down our main trunkline, State Highway 1.

It is an undeniably scenic piece of road, but it comes with its own unique challenges and complicating factors.

Traffic coming to and from the Picton ferries creates convoys of vehicles travelling close together, including large numbers of trucks and campervans.

The one-way Hurunui River bridge also creates these groups of traffic. I have seen as many as 30 cars, trucks and campervans backed up waiting to cross.

There are precious few passing lanes on the highway throughout the Kaikoura electorate and those that do exist are generally too short to allow the streams of traffic to separate adequately.

I am sure most of us have seen examples of dangerous passing manoeuvres within these long streams.

Of course, the number of trucks that travel this road will only increase.

Freight levels are expected to increase by 75 per cent over the next 25 years.

Currently, the Government is looking at the possibility of allowing larger trucks on our roads, in a review of the vehicle dimensions and mass (VDAM) rule, that has been in place for 13 years.

This discussion document proposes giving operators access to newer, safer and more innovative vehicles that could further increase efficiency and improve environmental outcomes.

While reducing the number of trucks has obvious benefits, making them larger creates other issues.

The Kaikoura District Council has highlighted some of these issues in a submission to the review.

It lists the two tunnels south of the town, the width of roads in Kaikoura's urban area, increased traffic on Inland Rd and the impact on tourists, cyclists and local traffic.

In fact, the council suggests the section of State Highway 1 in the Kaikoura district is the least user friendly section of the highway in the South Island.

They may be right. There are several sections of very tight bends, the two narrow tunnels that even the most skilled truck drivers must negotiate with extreme precision, and precious few passing lanes, particularly in the Hundalees.

I absolutely welcome any discussion that focuses on our patch of State Highway 1.

My hope is that this will lead to more and longer passing lanes and other improved safety features to deal with the road's unique challenges.

We need an easier and above all safer drive for all who use this road.