I came back to the region last week, having been away for a few months, expecting things to be much the same.
In some ways, I was right, and in others, not so much.
However, for everyone who lives in Wairarapa, there is one perennial truth – it’s all about the roads. In this large, mainly rural area with little to no public transport, almost everything and everyone depends on the roads. When the roads close or fail, everything pretty much stops.
Take Martinborough, for example, a town universally admired for its quaint appeal, great shopping, and probably the best pinot noir wine in the world. This is a town dependent on a narrow 100-year-old bridge for almost all its supplies. Of course, there are other routes in and out, but the Waihenga Bridge on SH53 is definitely the town’s lifeline. On Wednesday night, the bridge closed, only reopening on Thursday afternoon. Late on Wednesday, a steady stream of cars could be seen leaving the town as holidaymakers and others escaped. This is a regular happening, even though it is 2023, not the early 1900s [when the bridge was built].
Everyone I have spoken to agrees this bridge needs replacing, and yet there are currently no publicised plans to do this.
A bit further out of town, Hinakura Rd, a narrow track leading from Martinborough via Longbush Rd to the Hinakura Valley, has been slowly subsiding down the hill – for years. Yesterday, a massive slip in the Tora Gorge blocked the road to the coast, trapping the community.
And these are not the only marginal roads in the region. Admiral Rd in Carterton regularly closes in bad weather, as does Longbush Rd leading from South Wairarapa to Carterton. Small slips and falling vegetation are generally the culprits. Recently there was a slump on the road just past the Ponatahi Bridge that is now simply covered in gravel with a speed restriction.
Meanwhile, in towns and on SH2, there seem to be endless roadworks where the road actually looks okay. Obviously, I’m no roading engineer, but every day as I drive from the turnoff at East Taratahi Rd onto SH2 on the way into Masterton, I wonder what the road did to deserve all those traffic cones. Why is it down to one lane? What happened to the passing lane? Last year there didn’t seem to be any problems there. The only plus for me as a regular driver there is I no longer fear for my life every time I turn onto SH2. The current roadworks and 50 KPH speed limit mean worries about escaping speeding drivers as I crush the accelerator to the floor are a thing of the past.
Of course, new lower speed limits will bring their own problems. Longer waits for deliveries, rising costs for transport companies, traffic jams, and the rest.
There is little doubt that, while SH2 is getting a massive upgrade, small rural and even larger secondary roads are failing.
At the same time, opportunities are being missed to invest in energy-efficient and sustainable alternatives like reliable, improved rail options and other good [or any] public transport.