Featherston business owners are fuming following a KiwiRail announcement that there will be a partial closure of State Highway 2 on one of the busiest trading weekends of the year.
KiwiRail had initially planned to close the Fitzherbert St level crossing entirely during the upcoming three-day Wellington Anniversary weekend – meaning traffic would follow a detour bypassing several local businesses on the town’s main street – but amended its traffic management plan after appeals from several store owners.
However, local businesses remain concerned about the partial closure because SH2’s southbound lane will still be closed, and commuters travelling to Wellington will not be able to stop in on their way out of town.
Paul Broughton, owner-operator of Featherston’s C’est Cheese shop, contacted KiwiRail after hearing about the planned full closure to inform the state-owned rail operator that it would have a “significant adverse impact” on his business after a similar closure late last year.
“We simply cannot afford for this to happen over Wellington Anniversary weekend,” he said in an email to KiwiRail.
After KiwiRail’s announcement of the amended traffic management plan, Broughton is still frustrated at the timing of the scheduled work.
“While it is pleasing to note the road will now be subject to partial closure, retailers will nonetheless still suffer significant adverse impacts as a result of these unplanned additional works,” Broughton said.
“Southbound traffic is our key ‘market’, if you will, as these are typically Wellingtonians travelling home after a day trip to the various wineries and boutique shops that South Wairarapa is renowned for.
“Over a long weekend, this becomes even more important given the greatly increased volumes of road traffic.”
Broughton asked that KiwiRail postpone the planned closure so it falls on a different weekend.
“The detour will mean a number of retailers will miss that vitally important through traffic, including my business,” he said.
KiwiRail’s original plan was to close the crossing and SH2 between 4am January 20 and 4.30pm January 22.
After community feedback, KiwiRail changed the traffic management plan to “allow for more public access”.
“We understand that the short notice for these works is not ideal and apologise for the concerns this has caused,” a KiwiRail spokesperson said.
The updated traffic management plan means that during the day [8am to 8pm] only the southbound lane will be closed with a detour in place.
Northbound vehicles will still be able to use the level crossing, and vehicles will be able to access the car park next to Lang’s Pharmacy at all times.
Contractors will still be working 24/7, with some of the work expected to generate substantial noise.
“We will also use temporary lighting while we work at night,” KiwiRail said in a letter to local business owners.
“Over the anniversary weekend the footpath will remain open for pedestrian use.”
Work on the Fitzherbert St level crossing is part of KiwiRail’s capacity upgrade programme, which is “designed to support more passenger services for Wairarapa commuters in the coming years,” a KiwiRail spokesperson said.