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Life in the slow lane

Proposed speed limit cuts that could see Wairarapa highways reduced to 60kmh are proving divisive, but transport officials insist the move will save lives.
Waka Kotahi released its interim state highway speed management 2023-2024 consultation draft on Monday. The proposal would see speed limits dropped on 400km of highways nationwide, including four sections of State Highway 2 [SH2] in Wairarapa.
The changes would include reducing the speed limit on SH2 at Masterton from Cashmere Oaks Dr to Paierau Rd from 100kmh to 80kmh, removal of the variable speed area on SH2 near Carterton and establishing a 80kmh zone, and reducing the speed of SH2 at south Featherston from 100kmh to 80kmh.
The most drastic change would be on Remutaka Hill, where traffic would be restricted to 60kmh, down from 100kmh.
Speed limits would also be cut around three Wairarapa schools: St Patrick’s School and Hadlow Preparatory School in Masterton, and Featherston School. Waka Kotahi proposed introducing a 30kmh variable speed limit at these locations.
All proposed changes would be permanent.
If the proposal moves ahead, it would mean someone travelling from north Masterton to Upper Hutt would encounter five areas of reduced speed even before further changes came into play, with a spokesperson for Waka Kotahi saying the plan did not cover work currently underway in Wairarapa.
“The SH2 Masterton-to-Featherston speed review is still a work in progress and awaiting final approvals.
“We plan to make a public announcement about it in the coming weeks.”
Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the proposals were one of the key ways Waka Kotahi was aiming to bring down the road toll.
“The reductions they’ve proposed are focused on areas in the state highway network around schools, marae, and towns – many of whom have requested the reductions to improve the safety of their communities.
He said it was not a matter of choosing one solution over another.
“In our own patch, Waka Kotahi is proposing to lower the speed limit over the Remutaka Range.
“This is on top of the massive work programme that’s happened under this Government to improve that stretch of SH2. Both measures will make it a safer trip over the hill.
“The current speed limit is 100kmh, which is unrealistic and unsafe. I’ve lived in Wairarapa my whole life and have travelled over the hill thousands of times. I can’t ever remember getting near 100kmh.”
Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling said that where there was general support for lowering speed limits around vulnerable road users, such as at schools, it was open roads where things got more contentious.
“Disputes arise when it comes to those straight open stretches of roads … and there’s evidence those roads are not fit for purpose.
“People keep going fast, thinking they are better drivers than they are and then crash on the corners.
Pauling said the changes wouldn’t make a lot of difference to people’s commuting time anyway.
“For example, from Masterton to Castlepoint, if the speed limit dropped to 80kmh the whole way, the difference would be less than five minutes.
“If this saves lives and prevents serious injuries, then are those 4-5 minutes an issue? If people did the calculations, I think they’d be quite surprised.”
However, not everybody supported the proposed changes, with transport safety advocate Aaron Slight calling the speed reductions “crazy”.
“It’s ridiculous that they think this will help in any way, shape or form.
“Even with their own statistics, it doesn’t make any sense at all: 48 per cent of drivers killed have had drugs or alcohol, 32 per cent are driving too fast for the conditions, and 14 per cent from inattention, which is only going to get worse
if you slow things down.
“I don’t get how they think this is going to work. I’m sick of the government at the moment trying to protect us from ourselves.”
The proposed changes are open to public consultation until December 12.
“Waka Kotahi wants to hear from the public on the proposed changes and I encourage everyone to share their views through the submission process,” McAnulty said.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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