SH16: Pretty, or pretty deadly?

By: Shannon Williams, Photography by: David Lott

Views of the countryside, scenic rolling hills, and a chance to avoid central Auckland—what more could you ask for when driving on a state highway?

State Highway 16, the western route from Auckland to Northland and part of the route known as the Twin Coast Discovery Highway, links urban Auckland with Wellsford via Kumeu, Helensville, and Kaukapakapa. Often used as a scenic alternative route to State Highway One, the views are hard to beat but the condition of the road leaves a lot to be desired.


SH16 inks urban Auckland with Wellsford via Kumeu, Helensville, and Kaukapakapa

Uneven surfaces, potholes, constant roadworks, and varying speed limits means truck drivers, buses, and commuters are in for a few surprises along the 108km highway—something Dargaville-based contractor Brian Solly found out first-hand recently on a drive with his wife, Karen.

Brian was driving down State Highway 16 to Auckland from Dargaville in his Nissan six-wheeler when the condition of the road caused Karen to hit her head on the roof of the truck.

"The road has moved something frightful. Lucky, I had the steering wheel to hang on to," Brian says.

While Karen is fine, Brian says the experience was quite scary.

"Trying to brake when your feet are up in the air is a bit difficult. My load actually left the deck and came back down," he says.

It was about three days before Karen could say she felt okay again.

Brian runs Waihue Quarries, supplying metal to the council and farmers and forestry.

"We’ve driven SH16 for a long time. It’s not just the one bad piece; it’s a lot of bad pieces all the way through," he says.

Brian says he only took SH16 because he was headed for Massey and wanted to avoid going through the city.

"I didn’t want to drive through the middle of Auckland because it upsets me; it stresses me out," he says.

"But if you’re someone who regularly drives up and down it, you know all about it. It’s not good.

"Frankly, State Highway 16 is diabolical."

What’s being done about it?

Uneven surfaces and potholes seen on SH16

Local community and industry groups, including the heavy transport industry, have raised concerns with regard to seal width and road user safety on the section of the highway north of Kaukapakapa.

Additionally, the main hazard that affects SH16, particularly towards the northern end, is rainstorm events, which cause flooding and slope movement.

According to KiwiRAP, New Zealand’s Road Assessment Programme, from 2012 to 2016, there were two fatal crashes and 17 serious crashes on SH16 from Wellsford to Helensville, six fatal crashes and 19 serious crashes on SH16 from Helensville to West Harbour, and from Hobsonville to Parnell, there were five fatal crashes and 25 serious crashes.

Certain sections of the highway have received attention, with roadworks a common sight along the route, such as the upgrade of the Northwestern Motorway with widening from St Lukes to Te Atatu, raising the marine causeway west of Waterview, and upgrading the Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd interchanges.

From 15 to 18 February 2021 alone, NZTA advised of more than 10 motorway closures along SH16 for motorway improvements.

In September last year, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency introduced speed limits on State Highway 16 between Brigham Creek and Waimauku in a bid to improve safety for road users.

From 2009 to 2018, there were 449 crashes on this stretch of road with seven people killed and 57 seriously injured.

"Our technical assessment found the current speed limits weren’t safe for the road environment," NZTA director of regional relationships, Steve Mutton, said at the time.

"While reviewing current speed limits is something we can do now to address safety concerns, we’re also making State Highway 16 safer with improvements to the road that we will deliver in stages. This includes widening the road and bridges, adding a flush median, flexible safety barriers and making it safer to make right-hand turns."

Back in 2018, NZTA announced a $53 million safety and efficiency boost for that same stretch of the highway. The improvements would include a new roundabout, extra lanes, safety barriers to prevent head-on crashes, and more space for pedestrians and cyclists. The funding was part of the government’s $600 million Safe Roads programme.

Safety improvements to be implemented by the project include putting in flexible road safety barriers to catch drivers who leave their lane before hitting something harder such as trees, poles, ditches, or other vehicles (flexible barriers will be installed along the road except between Taupaki and Kumeu); adding extra lanes between Brigham Creek and Taupaki roundabout from two lanes to four (two in each direction) to help improve travel times in the short-term, ahead of longer-term improvements; putting in a flush median, which is a painted area in the middle of the road to give you more room and a safe place to wait before turning, while traffic can continue to flow; SH16/Coatesville Riverhead Highway intersection improvements to help traffic flow better and make it safer to turn.

Between Brigham Creek and Kumeu, NZTA is creating a dedicated shared path for people who walk and cycle to provide genuine travel choice. Between Huapai and Waimauku, it’s widening bridges that are too narrow and making it safer to turn into Foster, Station, and Factory Roads, and between Huapai and Waimauku, it’s creating a wider road shoulder so there’s more space for people who cycle.

NZTA told Deals on Wheels the focus of this project is to improve safety in the area, which will improve the wider transport network’s efficiency.

"Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency are investigating plans for the longer-term to address future growth, including in Auckland’s northwest."

Ministry of Works

Roadworks are a common sight along the route

While improvements are being made to SH16, Brian says his wife’s injury shows some money needs to be spent fixing it up and making it safe for road users.

"We should be going back to the Ministry of Works days when they used to do all the work," he says. "They need to do something."

Find trucks for sale in NZ

Keep up to date in the industry by signing up to Deals on Wheels' free newsletter or liking us on Facebook