While Katikati residents will be “dancing in the street” upon hearing the New Zealand Transport Agency is adding a bypass for the town to its State Highway 2 Waihi to Tauranga programme, two long-time supporters want the project to start swiftly.
The NZTA says since the $520 million Waihi to Tauranga programme was announced by Transport Minister Simon Bridges last April, further investigations to develop detailed solutions along the corridor has concluded a bypass is needed for Katikati.
NZTA's Central North Island regional relationships director Parekawhia McLean says while further work is required to determine the best route for a bypass and timing for design and construction “it's clear that removing the state highway from the town centre will keep people safe, continue to improve reliability for locals and tourists and improve access to Katikati”.
But long-time bypass supporter and Katikati resident of 45 years, Don Wallis, thinks while political pressure and 2017 being an election year “is going to get it much sooner” construction should happen without further investigation.
Don says when the bypass was on the agenda last time, but shelved by the transport agency of the day due to two local businessmen objecting the plan, the community was told it was ready to go.
“The route has already been set, the money has been paid [for the land], the engineering has been done to the cost of the ratepayers,” says Don, who founded the Squeaky Wheel Action Group that protested for a bypass back then by repeatedly using the Main St pedestrian crossing – now controlled by a traffic light – to halt traffic they wanted out of town.
“So that [further work required to determine the best route] is absolute rubbish – it's stalling on paper.”
Don says many in the community would feel that now NZTA has said the bypass is back on the programme, they should just get on with the job. “That's exactly what should happen.”
“It's nothing to do with bypassing Auckland traffic or anything, which is a fallacy. It's all to do with population growth. We [Katikati] have become an extension of Tauranga, we're a suburb.”
Fellow Katikati resident and long-time bypass campaigner John Logan asks: “They didn't say at what timeframe it will begin or anything?” as he hears of the news.
“The bypass has been on the agenda before and been dropped off.”
John says last time the bypass was halted there was a real fear among some – mainly the local business community – that Katikati would become a ghost town. “They were saying: ‘Who's going to come into Katikati to eat or shop when Tauranga is only half an hour away?”.
But he feels the town is better placed now to grow and evolve after a bypass is built.
“That why all of these groups, like the mural group, were set up – to create attractions in the town. And the population has grown enormously since then.
“I think now – even with a bypass – Katikati is strong enough and big enough to stand on its own.”
Parekawhiasays the NZTA expects to provide the community with more information on the timing, possible form and indicative cost of the bypass later this year.
“There's still a lot of work to be done and we'll keep the community fully informed as we progress.”
Public open days on the SH2 Waihi to Tauranga programme will be held later this month.