Residents are concerned about the condition of Ruakokoputuna Rd. PHOTOS/SUE TEODORO

‘A fatality waiting to happen’
Risky road’s future not sealed

SUE TEODORO
sue.teodoro@age.co.nz

Potholes, rutted surfaces, precipitous drops to the river below, hairpin bends, broken fences and piles of loose gravel. This was not a rarely used unmarked private road – Ruakokoputuna Rd, off White Rock Rd, was a 15-minute drive from Martinborough.

Melissa da Souza-Correa was one of about 50 households using the road regularly. She and others were worried South Wairarapa District Council was backtracking on a promise to seal the risky route.

Melissa da Souza-Correa at the start of Ruakokoputuna Rd near Martinborough.

She said the council had agreed to a three-year programme to seal the road but had seemingly reneged on that promise.

Da Souza-Correa said the road was an accident hotspot and needed to be adequately sealed.

“The maintenance of the road used to keep up with the use of the road, but the last 10 years has seen a big increase in population and an equally large increase in tourists,” she said.

“It’s not a safe road, particularly for people that are not used to driving gravel roads.

“We’ve been complaining to the council about it for at least 10 years. The council has known about our concerns. Why have they sealed other roads and not this road? We watched while other roads in the area that got far less traffic than this road, got sealed,” she said.

The number of nearby residents had increased from about six households to more than 50 in the past 20 years.

While the speed limit was 100km an hour, she said about half that speed was safe for the conditions.

Drivers regularly lost control and ended up down the bank towards the river, 40 metres below.

“You drive into the middle of the road to avoid the potholes, but then you’re driving into oncoming traffic.

In summer, users swelled by thousands as tourists poured in to walk the popular Patuna Chasm and stay at glamping spots. Wineries and traditional dairy farming and forestry added to the activity.

“It’s not safe for all those tourists or the workers who come to work at the vineyard. Then there’s all the forestry. The road is no longer fit for purpose,” she said.

Alan Wilkinson owned Patuna Farm with his wife.

“In relation to the chasm walk and people coming down the road there is a safety factor,” he said.

“A good proportion do not have experience driving on gravel roads. It’s easy to say you should go slower, but they brake on the corners and do all the things you shouldn’t do on gravel roads.

“It’s just a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured.”

Dave Shepherd, who had managed nearby Ruakokoputuna Vineyard for eight years, said the road should be sealed and widened.

“It’s an accident or fatality waiting to happen.”

Kim Lace had owned Ace Panel and Paint in Martinborough for more than 30 years. The collision and repair shop had plenty of experience with crashed cars on the road.

“It’s a very narrow windy road and it’s always been well known for not being very well kept,” he said.

Lace estimated his company would deal with about six crashes a year on the road.

“Normally, it’s cars upside down or in the ditch. Some people are helicoptered out.’’

He said traffic on the road had increased with more visitors coming to the area.

“Some of those Wellington people don’t know how to drive on a gravel road. They get totally out of control. Two cars come towards each other, they get too close and they both get on the brakes. Once you get on the brakes, you’ve got no steering whatsoever and you’ll just skip straight ahead. If they’re pointing towards the bank, they’ll go straight over the bank,” he said.

Council chief executive Harry Wilson said the council wanted feedback on the issue as par of its LTP process.

“Council currently budgets to seal 1km of unsealed rural roads each year. This previously cost $126,000, but roading cost increases mean that the budget would need to increase to $400,000 to continue to seal 1km of road.

“In order to minimise the rates increase, we propose to remove funding for rural road seal extensions from the LTP. Only sealing of road sections that pose health and safety concerns would continue to occur in the meantime. This would mean the current sealing of Ruakokopatuna Road would not continue once current fund allocations are exhausted,” he said.

“The reseal of this particular road is entirely dependent on council’s decision after considering submissions to the LTP.”

Wilson said council staff inspected the road on April 20.

He said the council relied on ground moisture to bond graded gravel with the road’s subsurface, but the ground had been too dry.

“Cutting deeper to remove potholes while the road is dry does more damage to the road,” he said.

“To do this job to a high standard, rain is required to moisten the soil and create a long-wearing surface that can last until the next scheduled maintenance.”

The council asked people to be patient, drive to the conditions and report dangerous areas. Unsealed roads would be repaired once conditions were favourable.

The LTP can be accessed at swdc.govt.nz/ltp-consultation-2021-2031/. Submissions close tomorrow.



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