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Speed reduction welcomed in Rakaia

Speed reduction welcomed in Rakaia
Rakaia Community Association chairman Neil Pluck is thrilled Waka Kotahi is finally set to reduce the speed through the township on State Highway 1. PHOTO JONATHAN LEASK/LDR

A speed limit drop to 50kph in Rakaia has been welcomed by the community, but concerns remain for pedestrians trying to cross the busy stretch of State Highway 1.

Rakaia Community Association chairman Neil Pluck said he was thrilled to finally get a speed reduction through the township.

New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi has announced the long-awaited speed reductions will come into force on May 17.

The speed limit through Rakaia township will drop from 70kph to 50kph.

It’s the result the Rakaia community has seeking for years but doesn’t completely solve the town's connectivity concerns, Pluck said.

“It’s about time and reducing the speed to 50kph is good.

“There is some concern it might bunch traffic up making it a little bit trickier to get across the state highway.

“It still doesn’t solve the problem in terms of pedestrians, kids on bikes, mums and dads with prams, or elderly on their mobility scooters getting across.

Traffic volumes have increasingly risen through the township, which is split by SH1.

This has made it increasingly hazardous for locals to get across the highway, he said.

There is a traffic island used for crossing, “but jeepers you have got to be brave as getting caught standing in the middle is a bit hard on your nerves”.

The speed limit drop would make it easier to progress solutions like a pedestrian crossing or pedestrian-controlled traffic lights, Pluck said.

Meanwhile, the speed limit will drop to 80kp from Rakaia over Rakaia River Bridge and railway overpass to just north of Weavers Road.

A 60kph variable speed zone will also be introduced at North Rakaia Road. This will change the speed limit heading south to up to the Rakaia River Bridge when people are turning out of North Rakaia Road.

Most of that traffic will be due to the southbound commercial vehicle safety centre (CVSC), referred to as a weigh station,  which is set to become operational later this year.

The controversial weight station has been opposed by road users and the Ashburton District Council, who believe it was an unsafe location for the heavy vehicles pulling off and onto the highway.

Construction of the northbound CVSC will start soon and is scheduled to open next year, and will include installing another intersection speed zone at Weavers Road.

Menawhile, the handbrake remains applied to the speed reduction on State Highway 77 in Methven.

At the same time, NZTA consulted on the Rakaia speed reductions it proposed a reduction on SH77 in Methven, from 100kph down to 60kph past the Ōpuke Thermal Pools.

Deputy Mayor Liz McMillan said it was great news for the Rakaia Community that had been asking for the reduction, but it's shame the others remain on hold.

It is on hold because in December Minister of Transport Simeon Brown announced his plans to amend the speed limit rules, advising all road controlling authorities to stop work on any speed management plans until the new rule was in place.

An NZTA spokeswoman said that “in anticipation of the new rule, we have paused work on our speed management plans”.

“As we receive more information on the Rule, we will work through what it means for our speed management activity, including the proposals within the Interim State Highway Speed Management Plan.”

It is understood that the speed limit reductions in Rakaia were progressed because they were associated with the weigh station.

While National had promised to reverse speed limit reductions, Rangitata MP James Meager supported the reduction in Rakaia as it “has been requested by the community for a while”.

“When communities want specific, targeted speed limit reductions for safety reasons, such as in Methven past the hot pools, we will support that.”

By Jonathan Leask