A plan to better connect Silverdale Village with the Industrial Park could see an intersection on Hibiscus Coast Highway, at the foot of Silverdale hill, similar to those through Orewa, with slower speeds, lights and pedestrian crossings.
It’s a proposal that has divided local politicians and caused controversy since it was first mooted more than 40 years ago (lights were in a County Council Long Term Plan in 1976).
So the reaction was predictably mixed last month when Auckland Transport (AT) announced that as a result of its investigations into the intersection of Silverdale Street, Tavern Road and Hibiscus Coast Highway it had identified lights as the preferred option.
This conclusion has been the result of dogged lobbying by the Silverdale Area Business Association over many years: the proposal was favoured by the former Rodney District Council, but rejected in 2011 when AT said it could cause traffic holdups back up the hill to Whangaparaoa Peninsula and make it difficult for large trucks to stop safely. AT was also concerned about the cost of signalisation, which it estimated at the time would be $3 million.
Since then, the business association has met AT representatives regularly. Its president, Phil Bennett, says that, as a result, “we are now all on the same page”.
“We have been working to free up the business park, which has 3000 employees, and get connectivity for Silverdale,” Mr Bennett says. “With the explosion of growth it has become urgent to look at infrastructure and solutions to connect Silverdale better so people can work local, stimulating our economy and reducing traffic congestion.”
Last term the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board voted to support the concept after advice from AT that safe access into the industrial area, particularly for double articulated trucks and buses, was an issue.
Local board deputy chair Janet Fitzgerald says she was skeptical about lights before the speeds on the highway were lowered to 70kph (in 2014) but she has seen that work and supports the business association in its efforts to make the roads safer. The intersection has been the site of many crashes and the NZ Transport Agency listed it as the 16th most dangerous in the country in 2014.
Mrs Fitzgerald says since the road lost its State Highway designation, in 2012, it made sense that it should gain a community feel. The amount of traffic lights scheduled to go along the highway will slow traffic anyway, Mrs Fitzgerald says – ultimately there could be as many as seven sets of lights between the Silverdale motorway interchange and Hilltop/Red Beach Rd.
“The whole idea is to get speeds down and make it pedestrian-friendly so Silverdale can be a proper township to drive through, as Orewa is,” Mrs Fitzgerald says. “As a local board we are here to listen and if an idea is sensible and makes the place better, we should support it.”
However, the majority of local politicians are not in favour. This includes both ward councillors, John Watson and Wayne Walker, and three of the four Hibiscus Coast local board members – Vicki Watson, Mike Williamson and Caitlin Watson.
They are concerned that the lights will cause serious congestion.
“AT said in 2011 that lights at that intersection would cause traffic to back up to the peninsula,” Cr Watson says. “Congestion is way worse now.”
He says AT’s feasibility study includes consideration of warning lights, a reduction in the speed limit to 50kph and realignment of the road.
“The cost for this would run into millions of dollars and the result would be gridlock – it’s lunacy,” he says.
Cr Walker says that what makes this proposal all the more difficult to understand is that there are plans to extend East Coast Road across the Weiti River by Pak ‘n’ Save and into Silverdale (known as the Curley Avenue connection).
“This will address the problem of access across the highway and is part of an accelerated transport package for Silverdale already agreed to – the lights aren’t needed,” Cr Walker says.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff appears to be sitting on the fence – having recently met with the business association and Councillors, he declined to comment on the issue.
AT is currently drafting “an indicative business case” to assess the economic impact of signalisation and spokesperson James Ireland says that public consultation will be undertaken after the draft is complete to ensure the community has its say.