Special feature: State of Tasman District roads

By: Shannon Williams, Photography by: Supplied

Moving equipment long distances in a truck can sometimes be tricky, but the state of NZ’s roads doesn’t make it any easier, according to a Nelson Tasman contractor

Collapsing, uneven roads are a common site on Nelson Tasman roads

Phillip Saunders of Motueka-based Saunders Contracting says the roads around the Motueka-Nelson-Richmond area are "rough as guts" and driving them was like being in armed combat. "One road I drive is the Motueka Valley Road, which is mostly very narrow, winding, and uneven with a lot of collapsing on the outside," Phil says.

"Some spots are worse in places than others, with generally no berm areas and very little room for error in vehicle positioning. "It’s got lots of uneven patches and it’s really narrow. If you put your wheel over that white line, you can be in a disastrous situation very quickly."

Patching up

The Tasman District Council recently had listed 13 road works and maintenance projects on its website. These included safety improvements at D’Arcy Street, Croucher Street, Florence Street, and Elizabeth in Richmond, reducing speed projects in Motueka, repairs and crack sealing on the Motueka Valley Highway, and UFB construction.

"Three Brothers Corner (corner of Bateup Road, Appleby Highway, and SH) over in Nelson, heading over towards Brightwater, that’s terribly rough in a truck," Phil says. "And lower Queen Street is another one, and driving from Motueka through to Rabbit Island is pretty rough and uneven, considering the amount of traffic it carries.

"The whole state of the roading network is just about appalling. "They’ve done nothing to the roads really. It’s just a bunch of patching up. Patching patching patching. "From Motueka through to Richmond, they’ve patched the patches. I used to do roadworks back in the day, and I’m sure that we turned out a better-quality product than what they seem to now.

You can only deduce that they are working to such low margins that they’re skipping through these things without doing them properly." Phil says there are many other roads in the area in a similar state of degradation. 

Even newer roads have patches over patches 

"Another of particular note is the section heading south from Richmond, which is very uneven in a lot of sections. Even newish sections for example Richmond to Motueka are not exempt, where you go over poorly patched sections where patches have been done over patches and the surface is generally rough as guts, narrow, and winding in places with very little berm area."

According to the council’s long-term plan 2018–2028, there are many projects in the works to upgrade and improve the roads in the district. In the Motueka Town Centre, the upgrade of High Street is set for completion by 2023, at a cost of $880,000.

Improvements worth $500,000 to Main Rd Lower Moutere/Flett Rd intersection will realign intersection to be perpendicular and improve visibility to reduce crash risks, although this isn’t set to start until 2026.

In Nelson, the first stage of the Lower Queen Street Widening project will provide for future growth in Richmond West, with a total project cost of $4.7m. The four-year project is expected to start in 2026.

The Champion Road roundabout project from the Tasman District Council

In December 2020, Tasman District Council contractors began work to improve the roundabout at the intersection of Salisbury and Champion Roads. The project includes adding extra lanes to cope with increasing traffic, work to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians, and taking the opportunity to make improvements to the water supply reticulation and other services at the same time.

Stage Two started in January 2021 and will have an impact on traffic flow. Work at the roundabout will be done in four sections. The work is scheduled to finish by July 2021.
"We understand that Stage Two of this work will be disruptive, especially with other
construction also underway, so we thank you in advance for your patience and understanding," the council says.

"We’ll be working closely with the other projects to minimise disruption and to keep things running as smoothly and safely as possible. We’ll keep you updated as our project progresses."

The council says the second stage of the project is progressing well, with the final work happening on the road including constructing the concrete kerbs and islands and laying the asphalt.

"Landscaping and other infrastructure work will continue for some time, but the roundabout will begin re-opening soon." The joint project with NZTA and NCC aimed to improve travel time between Salisbury Road and Stoke/Whakatu Drive, at a cost of $899,000.

Unarmed combat

Other route options are in place to accommodate traffic while work is underway

While he hasn’t had any accidents, Phil says you have to drive to the conditions as much as you can and says it’s a tribute to the local drivers that there is such a low level of accidents.

"I drive pretty carefully, to be honest; it’s something I worry about for my business carrying equipment," he says. "It is a stressful situation, and I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years.

Transporting excavators, it almost puts the trailer off the road in places and after bringing the transporter through there, it feels like unarmed combat. It throws you around the cab, it seriously does."

Phil says the roads are a "health and safety disaster". "Around here we are mostly driving
on roads built by our great grandfathers for the vehicles of the day and consequently are completely inadequate for the usage they are being subjected to today," he says.

"The problem is the population has surged around Nelson and Richmond, but basically nothing has been done with the roads to cope with the extra traffic. "What on Earth is it going to be like in another 10 years? I’m shuddering to think of it."  

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