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Loose stones causing traffic delays on Kāpiti section of SH1

The Transport Agency is promising lengthy delays north of Wellington won’t extend into the Christmas period, but frustrated commuters are not holding their breath.

The entire express way was bumper to bumper, a local said. Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

Traffic travelling to and from the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington was brought to a standstill over the weekend, after a new road layout and too much chip seal on State Highway 1 caused major disruption.

The one-kilometre section of road between south of MacKays Crossing and north of Paekakariki township was diverted off the existing state highway onto a new road, to allow work to continue on Transmission Gully, which is due to open in 2020.

Michele lives at Paraparaumu Beach and works in Khandallah. The commute usually takes her about an hour.

“I was on call for work on Sunday, it took me two and a half hours to get to Khandallah, but an hour of that was just from Mackays Crossing to Paekakariki.”

She said it was the worst traffic jam she had ever seen.

‘It was banked up southbound going into Wellington, banked up going into Kāpiti Road, the entire expressway was just bumper to bumper, I’ve never seen that the entire time I’ve been driving this road.”

Every day on average an estimated 27,000 vehicles travel up and down the Kāpiti Coast on State Highway 1 – a key route in and out of Wellington.

Michele said people were not happy.

“People are getting angry and impatient and hot and tired and not merging properly, then some people leave too big a gap, some people drive too close to each other then you’ve got stones flicking up left, right and centre on your car,”

And it was those stones which seem to have caused the upset for commuters.

New Zealand Transport Agency Wellington manager Mark Owen apologised for the delays and said a contractor got a little heavy handed when applying the chip seal.

“There was probably a bit too much chip put down so the teams have been out at night sweeping that loose chip and helping the road settle down.”

New Zealand Transport Agency Manager Mark Owen. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

He said once this happened drivers would be able to go at least 70 kilometres per hour on the road, something Michele said would need to be seen to be believed.

“I don’t personally believe that it’s going to be fixed, I mean you can’t even do 50km down there at the moment, so I don’t think we’ll even be able to do 50km, I’m not expecting that any time soon,” she said.

Mr Owen also defended the decision to put down chip seal, rather than higher grade asphalt as the road was only to be used as a temporary realignment for a relatively short time.

“If we decided to asphalt you have to look more long term about the use. We apologise for the delays short-term while we lay this surface down but once it settles down it should be a good robust section of highway.”

Why do the change a week before Christmas?

Mr Owen said that poor weather in Wellington over the last month has hampered process and they have to make the most of the summer months.

“The critical thing for the Transmission Gully is they’ve got to make the best use of the construction window, obviously the summer months are critical to them. This component was on their critical path.”

“They need the time so they can get in and do the next stage of their construction during the summer months so they can meet their end target of getting the road open as soon as they can.”

He expected it would take a year before traffic was diverted back onto the new road.

In the meantime, he encouraged people to drive to the speed limit and warned people against driving too slowly.

“We’re encouraging people to keep a constant speed, watch the distances of the car you are following in front, but if you can keep your speed up to what is the appropriate speed limit, then we get more throughput of vehicles.”