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NZTA in a U-turn on Remutaka Hill

NZTA Waka Kotahi [NZTA] appears to have heeded the concerns of “regular users” of State Highway 2 [SH2] Remutaka Hill Rd, with its announcement of more nighttime closures “to allow for changes to the slow vehicle bays” following commuter feedback that recent safety improvements “are not working as intended”.

According to a June 1 announcement, NZTA has been prompted to undertake an independent safety audit of the work following road user feedback.

“The audit recommended we make some changes to improve traffic flow and safety,” Mark Owen, NZTA regional manager for the lower North Island and top of the South Island, said.

“We are listening and are working hard to set things right.”

The installation of the slow vehicle bays, along with other safety measures, began earlier this year during a series of nighttime road closures, including 10 nights last month.

In a statement to Times-Age in May, Owen explained that the decision to change the passing lanes to slow vehicle bays was “about encouraging people to drive safely and courteously when travelling on State Highway 2 Remutaka Hill”.

“The old passing lanes did not meet the current criteria for the length of passing lanes”, which encouraged high speeds and unsafe driving, Owen said.

“Slow vehicle bays are seen as being more appropriate for the challenging road environment found on the Remutaka Hill.”

However, the subsequent performance of the road – particularly the slow vehicle bays – attracted criticism from local commuters, as well as from the Wairarapa Road Safety Council [WRSC]. In NZTA’s latest announcement, Owen summarised the remedial works, which are scheduled to take place over 10 consecutive nights from June 9 to June 21, starting at 9pm and finishing at 4am.

“We’re installing extra signs that clearly direct slow drivers to keep left and that better indicate the length of the slow vehicle lanes,” Owen said.

“We will also rename them ‘slow vehicle lanes’, which more accurately reflects their intended use.

“New road markings will also improve the lanes’ entry and exit points and will provide better visual directions for drivers.

“This will also assist slower drivers to use the full length of the slow vehicle lane to allow other vehicles to pass safely.”

WRSC manager Bruce Pauling is encouraged by NZTA’s announcement but has reservations about the usefulness of signs when the slow vehicle lanes remain so short.

“Any road safety infrastructure improvements that are either self-explanatory or have been communicated early and well to avoid confusion are always welcome,” he said.

“Any proposed warning signs to alert drivers that the lanes are ending could be beneficial. However, I wonder about the efficiency of these given how short some of the new ‘slow vehicle’ lanes are on the hill.”

Pauling remains critical of the way the agency had initially communicated the changes to Wairarapa’s road environment to drivers.

“The changes from ‘passing lanes’ to ‘slow vehicle lanes’ on SH2 Wairarapa, including the Remutaka Hill road, were not communicated as I would have expected, leading to driver confusion and inconsistency.”

He said driver impatience also remains an issue, with behaviours like undertaking and tailgating contributing to making the road unsafe.

“The Remutaka Hill lanes are quite short in length and if drivers move to the left lane, they invite impatient drivers to overtake at speed on approach to the ‘merge’ area [two lanes into one].

“This is leading to a ‘pinch point’ causing potential vehicle ‘conflict’, which is evident from regular commuters’ online comments.”

Pauling’s advice to drivers is that “slow-moving vehicles should move to the left lane to allow vehicles travelling at the legal posted speed to pass in these slow vehicle lanes”.

“If you are travelling at the legal speed, you are not legally required to move to the left lane,” he said.

With normal passing lanes – which are usually much longer in length – drivers should move to the left lane and then ‘merge’ at the appropriate point.”

Owen has apologised for “the confusion and distress” the changes introduced this year have caused road users.

“Please bear with our road crews next month as they work hard to make these changes. It’s all about making the Remutaka Hill a safer piece of road for everyone to use.”

While the remedial work “wasn’t in the original schedule for this year”, other work, including barrier upgrades, will also be carried out to “make use of the additional week of hill closures”. In NZTA’s latest announcement, Owen summarised the remedial works, which are scheduled to take place over 10 consecutive nights from June 9 to June 21, starting at 9pm and finishing at 4am.

“We’re installing extra signs that clearly direct slow drivers to keep left and that better indicate the length of the slow vehicle lanes,” Owen said.

“We will also rename them ‘slow vehicle lanes’, which more accurately reflects their intended use.

“New road markings will also improve the lanes’ entry and exit points and will provide better visual directions for drivers.

“This will also assist slower drivers to use the full length of the slow vehicle lane to allow other vehicles to pass safely.”

WRSC manager Bruce Pauling is encouraged by NZTA’s announcement but has reservations about the usefulness of signs when the slow vehicle lanes remain so short.

“Any road safety infrastructure improvements that are either self-explanatory or have been communicated early and well to avoid confusion are always welcome,” he said.

“Any proposed warning signs to alert drivers that the lanes are ending could be beneficial. However, I wonder about the efficiency of these given how short some of the new ‘slow vehicle’ lanes are on the hill.”

Pauling remains critical of the way the agency had initially communicated the changes to Wairarapa’s road environment to drivers.

“The changes from ‘passing lanes’ to ‘slow vehicle lanes’ on SH2 Wairarapa, including the Remutaka Hill road, were not communicated as I would have expected, leading to driver confusion and inconsistency.”

He said driver impatience also remains an issue, with behaviours like undertaking and tailgating contributing to making the road unsafe.

“The Remutaka Hill lanes are quite short in length and if drivers move to the left lane, they invite impatient drivers to overtake at speed on approach to the ‘merge’ area [two lanes into one].

“This is leading to a ‘pinch point’ causing potential vehicle ‘conflict’, which is evident from regular commuters’ online comments.”

Pauling’s advice to drivers is that “slow-moving vehicles should move to the left lane to allow vehicles travelling at the legal posted speed to pass in these slow vehicle lanes”.

“If you are travelling at the legal speed, you are not legally required to move to the left lane,” he said.

With normal passing lanes – which are usually much longer in length – drivers should move to the left lane and then ‘merge’ at the appropriate point.”

Owen has apologised for “the confusion and distress” the changes introduced this year have caused road users.

“Please bear with our road crews next month as they work hard to make these changes. It’s all about making the Remutaka Hill a safer piece of road for everyone to use.”

While the remedial work “wasn’t in the original schedule for this year”, other work, including barrier upgrades, will also be carried out to “make use of the additional week of hill closures”.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Slow drivers seldom see themselves as ‘slow vehicles’ and refuse to move over. Far better to have passing lanes where the slow drivers need do nothing but stay the course and the rest of us can get by them. I do not know from whence HZTAs hatred of passing lanes stems, but I wish they would get over it.,

  2. What a merry go round trying to make a road that’s passed its USED BY DATE INTO A MONEY 💰 PIT. The Wairarapa will never be a great place as long as the Remutaka Hill rd remains the ONLY WAY FOR VEHICLES TO TRAVEL. PLEASE START PLANNING 🙏 🙂 THE NEW REMUTAKA ROAD THAT WILL BE FIT FOR PURPOSE.

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