National will invest in the SH5 Napier - Taupō

The blanket speed reduction decision on the SH 5 Napier to Taupō needs to be reversed and the Government should instead focus on improving the quality of the road.

Answers to Written Questions by the Minister of Transport on the SH5 is further proof that the Government should be prioritising a comprehensive upgrade of the State Highway 5 (SH5) between Napier and Taupō instead of simply lowering speed limits.

In December 2021, I asked the Minister how many complaints he had received about the state highway over the past two years. Out of 59 complaints, five were about maintenance issues, 9 for potholes and 2 for drainage. Even more concerning is information from Waka Kotahi NZTA that revealed 2992 repairs to potholes over a five year period!

Yet, despite the poor maintenance statistics, Waka Kotahi NZTA went ahead and decided to lower the speed limit for 83 kilometres on the SH5 instead of investing in urgent road maintenance, surface upgrades and safety features.  The Government has demonstrated an absolute disregard for both the importance of this piece of road and its users.

This road is the only highway link between the central North Island and Hawke’s Bay region, making it particularly important for freight, including access to the Port of Napier and tourism.

While lower speed limits can be helpful for more dangerous sections of roads, imposing them on most parts of the road will only pile on additional costs in lost time and revenue for those responsible road users who already drive to the conditions and current limits.

In August 2020, National committed to investing $300 million to improve the SH5 route. The commitment also included an immediate fast track of the safety projects.  At the time, the Road Transport Forum described the road as ‘so patched up it looks like a patchwork quilt’.

An urgent upgrade is to the surface and seal of the road, instead of just fixing dangerous potholes repeatedly. Significant safety issues also need to be addressed through a retrofitted median and roadside barrier, re-engineered and straightened dangerous corners, new passing lanes, widened shoulders, and safer turning opportunities.

I'm pleased that the local community has joined my ongoing efforts to directly challenge the Government on their flawed decision. I’m working with Tony Alexander, an advocate and a regular user of that stretch of road as a truck driver, and Kiri Goodspeed who has initiated a parliamentary petition on the issue, to highlight the Government’s inaction on upgrading this piece of road.

I am also planning two stakeholder meetings at both ends of the road in Taupō and Napier in the coming weeks and will also be inviting NZTA, mayors and other regional community leaders to attend.

While the evidence is clear that better, modern roads are safer, Labour has no plan and no funding to address the deficiencies.

This road needs significant investment to save lives, bolster regional growth and improve journeys, particularly for truck drivers and tourists travelling in Hawke’s Bay.

This is sensible, shovel-ready work that can get underway quickly, creating jobs and improving safety.  It’s about time the Government gets on with it and action National’s proposals to improve the poor condition of this road rather than just slowing everyone down.