Tunnel trouble – promise broken?

The proposed Welcome Bay tunnel appears to be losing favour with roading project decision makers as the NZ Transport Agency considers other options.

The tunnel would take traffic from Welcome Bay to the Hairini causeway by going under the Maungatapu roundabout.


Proposed plan as explained to Ohauiti Road resident Philip Rumbal. Image: Google Earth.

It was an election promise made by National leader John Key in 2008 as the best way to separate Welcome Bay traffic from through-traffic on State Highway 29.

National promised to pay for the tunnel and a replacement four lane bridge over the Hairini causeway.

In March, 2010, Bay of Plenty electorate MP Tony Ryall and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges confirmed to Western Bay Mayor Ross Paterson and Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby that the government will keep that election promise.

Now it appears the NZ Transport Agency is looking at other options, says Hairini resident Philip Rumbal.

He received a letter from the NZTA about future options for the Welcome Bay roundabout, and when he confronted NZTA project manager Neil Mason about it, Philip was told the tunnel ‘was not in the picture’.

“What they want to do is create a bigger roundabout that goes around Palmers Garden World,” says Philip.

“Do away with the little roundabout and create a bigger one, taking property off people who live up Ohauiti Road so they can create a retaining wall and lower the road, and then go back over Maori land.”

The plan is for Welcome Bay residents going to Tauranga to have to turn left into Ohauiti Road and back onto State Highway 29 downhill from Palmers Garden World.

It creates a ‘traffic bank’ for the peak hour tail backs that were to have been solved by the promised tunnel.

When Philip asked about the tunnel, the NZTA reply was: ‘did he want to spend $50 million or $9 million?’

“They can’t see spending $50 million on a tunnel is going to solve the problem,” says Philip.

“I kept on asking him, is the tunnel going ahead? And they say no, no, no.”

Neil Mason is away and couldn’t be contacted.

NZTA principal project manager Andrew Scott says NZTA’s preferred option will be revealed next month.

“We are looking at a number of different options and we are making a public announcement in early August as to what our preferred solution or way forward for the whole Hairini project will be,” says Andrew.

“A grade solution is of course a lot cheaper, that is, if we can modify the roundabout.

“We had a two year investigation and it’s coming to a conclusion and we will be making the result of that public in August.”


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