After years of the obvious risks to big trucks being demonstrated by crash after crash, New Zealand Transport Authority has finally admitted that there is a need to overhaul the section of State Highway 1 between Christchurch and Picton. With the narrow, tight corners of the coastal stretch from the Conway to the Kowhai Rivers proving too much of an obstacle, the time is long overdue to overhaul this stretch of New Zealand’s main road.
So, as we digest an announcement that should have been made years ago, what are the potential options for mitigating the problem?
The first option is the obvious one as New Zealand Transport Authority suggests. That is upgrade State Highway One. There is no doubt that if trucks are to continue using this particular segment of road that there needs to be significant remedial work done.
There is a second option that negates the tricky stretch between the aforementioned rivers. That is to go inland on State Highway 7 through the less treacherous Weka Pass, via Rotherham come out just south of Kaikoura. This route does not have as heavy traffic, lacks the numerous short one lane tunnels that pepper the coastal route and avoids the steep drop at many of the tight corners into the Pacific Ocean. This would be advantageous for inland Canterbury towns which would have a small economic boom from the trucks passing through and if truck stops are needed, it would be easier to build them there than on a coastal strip that is only tens of metres wide or less in some places.
A third option is even better. New Zealand Transport Authority is supposed to work with all forms of transport in New Zealand – road, railway, and the merchant marine. Given many of the crashes are involving large trucks that are simply not suited to navigating that stretch of road, why not put it on rail? One good size freight train can take many times the volume of a single truck. If it is going to the North Island, it can be put on railway freight ferry at Picton and cross Cook Strait in 3.5 hours.
And then there is our grossly under utilized merchant marine. Whilst the merchant marine is certainly the slowest option, for non-urgent and large bulk consignments that do not need to stop at a railway yard and get shunted onto a ferry or wait in a parking area in Wellington or Picton, why not send it from Lyttelton?
The reasons for deliberately exploring these other options are numerous. The primary one is simply getting the most out of our transport networks through the various modes of transport. Another one is reducing our environmental footprint by reducing carbon emissions. And a third would be reducing the risk of a major toxic other spill into a sensitive environment which could impact on both sea life and human health. With these considered, it is definitely time to act.