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Why did the NZ Transport Agency consult on making lower speeds permanent on the Picton to Christchurch alternate state highway route (state highways 63, 6, 65 and 7)?

Consultation was undertaken proposing to convert a range of lower speed limits introduced on parts of the Picton to Christchurch alternate state highway route under emergency legislation after the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake to permanent limits. 

Lower permanent speed limits were proposed because:

  • The route is challenging to drive and since the earthquake traffic volumes have increased significantly however not all of the route is suitable for the volume of traffic that is having to use it.
  • There are a number of high risk sections on the route where reducing speed limits will make driving the route safer. These include: sections of open road that are narrow and windy, and at approaches to intersections and through towns.
  • Emergency speed limits can only legally be in place for six months. In order to keep the lower speed limits in place to maintain safety on the alternate route while SH1 remains closed for repair the law requires that the lower limits be made permanent.
  • The route has also been identified as in the top 10 percent of state highways where reducing speed limits will have the greatest potential to reduce the number of people dying or being seriously injured and to improve travel efficiency.

Why was the Lower Buller Gorge and part of SH7a in Hurunui included in consultation?

Consultation also included proposals to lower the speed limit on part of the Lower Buller Gorge and part of SH7a in Hurunui.

Neither road was part of the original emergency legislation but were included in the consultation as both sections of road feed traffic into the alternate route. Lower speed limits on both sections of road would bring speeds into line with the alternate route, creating a more consistent driving experience. 

What permanent speed limit changes are being put in place?

A range of speed changes are outlined here.

How many submissions were received?

Almost 300 submissions were received from members of the public, and stakeholders representing communities along the alternate route, motorists, and the freight industry.

What was the outcome of the consultation process?

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 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.

Proposals to lower speed limits on a section of the Lower Buller Gorge and SH7a towards Hanmer that both link to the alternate route but were not included in emergency legislation received low support.

What decisions have been made as a result of the consultation process?

While there is not support for permanent lower speeds on all sites consulted on, reverting to pre-earthquake speed limits on some sites while SH1 remains closed would be irresponsible given the ongoing road safety risks that led to emergency limits being established in the first place.

On that basis the following decisions have been made:

  1. Remove the Lower Buller Gorge (sites: 12,13,14,15) and and SH7a towards Hanmer (Site 6) from the speed proposals as they are not part of the original emergency legislation and received low support for change.
  2. In the interests of managing road safety risks associated with the high volume of vehicles on the alternate route - make a bylaw that will effectively convert the current emergency speed limits on the remaining sites to permanent speed limits, with some minor adjustments.
  3. Install additional signage at several sites along the alternate route to remind drivers of the posted speeds.
  4. Review speed limits on the alternate state highway route once SH1 becomes fully operational and traffic volumes have reduced to a stable level. Ideally this will be within six months of SH1 reopening, but will depend on traffic volumes.
  5. 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.

Will speed limits on the route go back to what they were before the earthquake once SH1 reopens?

Once SH1 becomes fully operational and traffic volumes have reduced to a stable level the Transport Agency will review speed limits on the alternate route again. Ideally this will be within six months of SH1 reopening, but it will depend on traffic volumes

Why were all the proposed changes in one consultation instead of separate ones?

The speed limits consulted on affect almost 500km and four state highways. However, because the different roads make up the entire route between Picton and Christchurch it made sense to consult on all the proposed changes at once, to ensure consistency and to minimise confusion.

Does the bylaw replace the emergency rule that has been in place since December 2016?

Yes, the Emergency Rule (Land Transport Rule: Hurunui – Kaikōura Earthquakes 2016) expires on 18 June 2017 so will be replaced by the new bylaw on this date.

Have lower speed limits on the alternate route increased journey time?

While there are delays on the alternate route caused by necessary roadworks, lower speed limits have only 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. The Transport Agency will also investigate whether more slow vehicle bays and pull-over areas could be built.

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