The Remutaka Hill closure schedule for 2024 will involve 31 planned overnight closures between January and June – 13 more than during the same period in 2023, Waka Kotahi has announced.
Mark Owen, the transport agency’s lower North Island regional manager, has confirmed that – unlike previous planned closures for maintenance – safety improvement works have also been included in the schedule in order to avoid additional closures in future.
In the first six months of this year, the Remutaka Hill was closed overnight for 18 nights to complete “essential maintenance and slip prevention work”, Owen said.
Owen said it has been a deliberate decision to build new safety improvements alongside maintenance works in the first half of 2024.
“Not only will this make the highway safer for all road users but doing it during a planned maintenance closure means it will be less disruptive,” he said.
Owen noted that Remutaka Hill is one of the country’s most high-risk sections of highway.
“In the 10 years between 2013 and 2022, there were 387 crashes on the hill. Six were fatal crashes, another 26 resulted in victims suffering serious injuries,” he said.
Over half the people who lost their lives or were seriously injured on Remutaka Hill in the past five years were motorcyclists.
The safety measures that will be installed include extra side barriers, motorcycle under-barriers, and improved signage and road markings.
Additional side barriers will be installed at high-risk locations and existing motorcycle safety under-barriers will be extended along Remutaka Hill with the addition of further barriers to improve safety for motorcyclists.
Motorcycle under-barriers work to redirect the rider along the barrier and away from guardrail posts should they come off their motorbike.
“Motorcyclist underrun protection systems are a crash-tested protection system; they reduce serious injuries and deaths,” a Waka Kotahi spokesperson told the Times-Age.
Road safety advocate and former professional motorcycle racer Aaron Slight said the planned motorcycle under-barriers are “definitely better” to have.
Slight said he can count on one hand the number of times someone had gone over the side of the hill in his lifetime before the initial barriers were installed.
In his view, people feel safer with barriers, so they drive faster, but “the rider needs to take some responsibility for himself”.
Slight also noted that most crashes on Remutaka Hill don’t involve the outer barriers; instead, “it’s usually crossing the centre line”.
“The improvements Waka Kotahi makes need other improvements,” Slight said before posing the question, “Why don’t we concentrate on what’s going wrong?”
Education plays a huge role in driver behaviour – we’re just teaching people how to pass their licence tests, without not actually teaching them to drive, Slight said.
Remutaka Hill’s overnight closures will run from 9pm to 4am, with the first closure scheduled for Sunday, January 14.
The rest of the closures will be undertaken in blocks of five nights, with start dates of March 10 and 17, April 14, May 19 and 26, and June 16.
Escorted crossings for light vehicles will be able to be arranged with Waka Kotahi, but will need to be booked in advance.