Workers on a Waikato roading project are being exposed to abusive and dangerous behaviour by passing motorists, with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency saying the situation is unacceptable.
Fletcher Construction staff and subcontractors are carrying out major remedial works and safety improvements on State Highway 1 between Horotiu and Taupiri, which has led to traffic congestion and frustration for road users.
In recent months workers have been spat on, verbally abused and threatened after people got out of a car. Last week vehicles drove into live work areas to avoid queuing, says Jo Wilton, Waka Kotahi Regional Manager for Infrastructure Delivery.
“These actions are putting road workers at risk and that is simply unacceptable,” says Ms Wilton.
“At times there are 20 or more people working on this project site – and most of them live local. They are your neighbours, your community, your people. They are doing their jobs and they shouldn’t have to put up with abuse or tolerate dangerous driving.’’
Temporary safety barriers are in place to separate about 20,000 vehicles a day from the workers, which means the site in restricted to one lane in each direction. While this leads to congestion at peak times, Ms Wilton says motorists are out of line to take their frustration out on the workers.
“This project has had some challenges with resourcing, weather and contractual requirements, and timeframes have had to be pushed out. But that’s not the fault of the workers.
“We ask that people stay patient while this work is done and show respect for the people on the ground there.”
Fletcher Construction’s Health, Safety and Environment general manager Carla Tonks says the road works teams live locally and understand the importance of making roads safe and usable again.
“These incidents only make travel delays longer. Our number one priority is the safety of our teams, and if they are being threatened and abused, we have to stop what we’re doing to keep them safe.”
The remedial and safety works under way are to bring the Ngāruawāhia section of the Waikato Expressway up to the same 110km/h standard as neighbouring sections.
The Ngāruawāhia section opened in late 2013 and was built by Fletcher Construction under a design and construct contract. The current works are being completed by Fletcher Construction with the repair portion completed under a cost-sharing arrangement with Waka Kotahi.
The work involves reshaping and sealing the median area, drainage improvements and pavement treatments depending on the existing pavement condition.
The safety improvements are seeing side barriers made continuous, some barriers upgraded, additional maintenance and turnaround bays for emergency services, shoulder widening and some lighting relocations.
A final, continuous asphalt surface will complete the works which are expected to finish in May 2024 although Waka Kotahi and its contractors are continuing to look at programming and resources to have the work finished earlier.