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Why the region needs an expressway

Wairarapa needs an alternative route to SH2.

A Wairarapa expressway that bypasses the four towns on SH2 has been discussed before, but never more than as a conceptual possibility.

But now that the controversial safety improvements between Masterton and Featherston will lower the speed limit, making the essential arterial road less useful for motorists and freight trucks, maybe it’s time for expressway talks to begin again.

The current road is one of the two transport corridors in and out of Wellington.

The name alone, SH2, implies that it should be the second most important road in New Zealand, but it won’t be up to scratch as a state highway once the lower limits kick in on Friday, January 27.

Once the safety changes are completed, a southbound driver will have slow to 50kmh in Lansdowne and won’t be allowed to reach 100kmh again until Remutaka Hill Rd, 38.5km south.

During that journey, they will travel at 50kmh or below for 14.9km [38 per cent of the way].

The controversial works will also include 21 raised pedestrian crossings in the towns, further slowing travellers.

These safety improvements are good news for residents, who should be allowed to cross the street without fear of going under the wheels of a 40-ton truck, but the changes will seriously hinder the effectiveness of SH2 as a transit link.

The 40km-long stretch of state highway, which moves industrial quantities of pine logs and people north and south, probably shouldn’t pass through four town centres.

Crawling through 4km of Carterton at 30-50kmh, passing over five raised pedestrian crossings along the way, should not be necessary for people commuting from Masterton to Wellington.

As pleasant as the Greytown shops are, If I were driving a truck, I wouldn’t want to travel through there at a busy time three hours into a journey from Napier to Wellington.

It is the NZ Transport Agency’s [Waka Kotahi] job to ensure state highways are effective links for the high-speed flow of goods and people across New Zealand.

It takes equal time to drive from Woodville to Upper Hutt, whether the route is via Wairarapa or Kapiti, despite the road through Wairarapa being 20km shorter.

When the Manawatu Gorge replacement road opens, more and more traffic from the north will bypass Wairarapa entirely.

SH2 south of Masterton is an essential piece of national and regional infrastructure, linking Wellington, Wairarapa, and Hawke’s Bay.

Road users make about 33,000 journeys daily from Masterton to Upper Hutt, according to a 2016 report by NZTA.

Greater Wellington Regional Council expects Wairarapa to be a high-growth area in its long-term plan.

Our state highway needs to be an actual state highway to support this expected growth.

The agency is never going to agree that 100kmh is a safe speed on an ordinary country road, and there’s no point building a proper motorway between the towns if motorists still had to crawl through the centre at 50kmh.

Our local councils and transport agency need to invest in infrastructure to keep Wairarapa well-connected to our regional neighbours.

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Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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