Lower speeds will remain in place on the Picton to Christchurch alternate route until State Highway 1 (SH1) north of Kaikoura reopens, after which speed limits will be reviewed again.
The NZ Transport Agency consulted in April on converting a range of temporary lower speed limits introduced under emergency legislation on the alternate route (state highways 63, 6, 65 and 7) after the November 2016 earthquake to permanent limits.
NZ Transport Agency Director Regional Relationships Jim Harland says the proposal to make the temporary limits permanent was necessary as emergency speed limits can only legally be in place for six months, but SH1 will not be restored until the end of the year.
“We received almost 300 submissions which gave us some valuable insights on how the current speed limits on the alternate route are working and what people want to see happen in the future.”
Public submissions supported permanent lower speed limits through most townships along the alternate route where speeds of 60km/h or 50km/h were proposed. There was limited public support for permanent lower speeds on open road sections of the route where speed limits of 80km/h were proposed.
Stakeholders representing communities along the alternate route, motorists, and the freight industry have on the whole supported lower speeds remaining on all existing sites on the alternate route while SH1 is being restored, but several requested speed limits be reviewed again once SH1 is fully operational.
Mr Harland says while there is not high support for permanent lower speeds on all sites consulted on, reverting to pre-earthquake speed limits while SH1 remains closed would be irresponsible given the ongoing road safety risks that led to emergency limits being established in the first place.
“In the interests of managing the risks associated with the high volume of vehicles on the alternate route the Transport Agency has decided to make a bylaw that will effectively convert the current emergency speed limits to permanent speed limits, with some minor adjustments.
“However, once SH1 becomes fully operational and traffic volumes have reduced to a stable level we will review speed limits on the alternate route again. Ideally this would be within six months of SH1 reopening, but it will depend on traffic volumes.”
Consultation also included proposals to lower the speed limit on sections of the Lower Buller Gorge. The road links to the alternate route but is not included in the current emergency rule. These proposals received low support, so will not be taken further in this review.
Mr Harland said concerns about travel time and limited passing opportunities on the alternate route were also raised in submissions.
“There is a perception that lower speed limits are significantly increasing travel times which is incorrect. While there are delays on the alternate route caused by necessary roadworks, lower speed limits have increased average journey time between Picton and Christchurch by less than two minutes.
“To date $1.5 million has been invested in slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas on the alternate route, and work is underway now to construct 20 more of these areas. However, in light of feedback, the Transport Agency will investigate whether more slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas could be built.”
Mr Harland said a new bylaw replacing the current emergency speed rule would be in place by June 18.
A copy of the summary of submissions and consultation report can be found on the NZ Transport Agency website: https://www.nzta.govt.nz/about-us/consultations/picton-to-christchurch-alternate-route-speed-limits/ (external link)
Picton to Christchurch alternate route speed limits consultation decisions
The Transport Agency will investigate whether more slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas could be built on the alternate route, in addition to the 20 sites currently under construction.