Lessons from Waipapa roundabout

Published on 30 September 2021

Ann Court (Deputy Mayor)

Tomorrow morning, the new roundabout at Waipapa will officially be opened. Many readers will already have used the roundabout when visiting Kerikeri or heading further south and may be surprised the opening ceremony is only now being held. While the roundabout itself has been open for a year, related projects, such as upgrading the stormwater system and building a bridge over the Whiriwhiritoa Stream to link Klinac and Maritime Lanes have taken longer to complete. The roundabout has already transformed Waipapa, removing a notoriously dangerous chokepoint at the intersection of State Highway 10 and Waipapa Road, reducing congestion, and increasing opportunities for walking and cycling.

I will be attending and speaking at tomorrow’s ceremony along with Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis. It will represent the final chapter in what has been a 30-year campaign to improve road safety at the intersection. This is a journey I started long before becoming a local politician. It has taught me more than I thought possible about our roading infrastructure and how it is funded. That is why I was so interested in Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s recent announcement that it intends spending an extra $750m on Northland roads over the next three years. That includes $344m for road maintenance, $103m to bring down the region's road toll, and $32m to replace a one-way bridge north of Kaeo.

The announcement came on the heels of growing discontent in Northland over road network funding. In June this year, Waka Kotahi announced its funding for Far North district roads over the next three years. As with previous funding rounds, this fell well short of what we need to maintain our roads. I warned that this would result in more road deaths and serious injuries. That was not idle speculation. According to the AA, Northland has the highest rate of road deaths in the country per head of population. Our region had 14.4 road fatalities per 100,000 people in 2020. The national average was 6.3. More telling, the majority of Northland road fatalities occurred on our state highways. Nationally, state highways account for less than half of road fatalities.

I am grateful for the extra funding announced this month and that much of it will go on maintenance. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Transport Minister Michael Wood have acknowledged this has been underfunded for decades. However, at a time when transport policy is increasingly focused on promoting public transport options to get Kiwis out of their cars and to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, I am disappointed that these options are not prioritised in Northland. Public transport and ride share options, cycleways, footpaths, bus stops, improved urban pedestrian access and Twin Coast Discovery walking tracks have all missed out. It seems that, once again, the people of Northland will be playing catch-up with other parts of the country. This issue is not something we can talk about for 30 years. Remember that the next time you drive through the Waipapa roundabout.