Transport and Infrastructure in the Welcome Bay Ward

Introduction

I spoke with Brendan Bisley, the former director of transport for the Tauranga City Council over the last 4 years. He shared his opinion with me on the current situation and the challenges we face, why we have these issues, and what we can do to address them.

A lot of what I talk about, I learned from Brendan. He has a lot of experience in the transport sector and has been involved in the planning and delivery of many of the projects in Tauranga. He has a good understanding of the issues and the solutions that are being considered.

I want to give credit to Brendan for his time and sharing his knowledge with me.

Welcome Bay Ward Transport Issues

Welcome Bay faces unique transportation challenges due to its topography, rural-urban mix, and its lack of amenities such as a supermarket and a highschool. The ward has very little flat land and is constrained by the estuary along its edge.

Welcome Bay only has the single access Road (Welcome Bay Road) and is connected to SH29a, Turrett Road and to Papamoa (via the rural section which is Western Bay). The lack of road capacity means Welcome Bay is unable to continue growing even though there is land availability. This has frustrated Iwi as they own a lot of the rural land but cannot develop it for housing due to the lack of roading access and its ability to handle more traffic.

It's easy to say the solution is to widen Welcome Bay Road and make it four lanes. The key issue here is that the Maungatapu underpass (built by Waka Kotahi) was not future proofed for additional lanes to save money, so there is not enough width to get four lanes in. Three lanes may be possible, but the current path would need to be removed which has reasonable usage by pedestrians/cyclists and unfortunately there are no simple alternatives for them to use. Therefore, additional capacity really needs to be moved to buses as they have the ability to utilise the existing Hairini bus lane.

Brendan mentioned that widening Welcome Bay Road will be a high cost due to the step banks along its length. They will need retaining walls to ensure they are stable as there is generally housing above the cut slopes.

The Council looked at options to improve bus reliability along Welcome Bay Road. Currently buses are caught up in the slow-moving traffic in the morning and they are not that reliable in the peak commuter hours for workers, so they are less attractive to use. A bus lane from James Cook Drive to the traffic signals at Hammond was considered, however, the modelling showed that adding additional lanes over Turret Road solved the congestion on Welcome Bay Road enough that a bus lane was not required at the moment.

Other Issues

  1. Traffic speeds are an issue around Welcome Bay School. The Council is looking at installing two raised platform pedestrian crossings to slow traffic. There have been many near misses and little police enforcement so hard infrastructure is needed to get speeds lower.

  2. While its not strictly a TCC issue, the rural part of Welcome Bay road needs significant investment as the road is in really poor condition and is constantly being hammered by the number of heavy vehicles using it and local residents. Parts of the road are now quite dangerous due to the uneven road surfaces and the number of potholes that develop. TCC needs to either push the Western Bay Council to put investment into the road or take it over themselves. Waka Kotahi noticed the condition of the road when they did their last audit in 2023 and were surprised it was in such a bad state. It is also important to remember that in a natural disaster residents may need that road to get around if the Turret Road bridge was no longer usable.

  3. One of the issues that comes up is traffic coming through from Papamoa as it can be quicker. In the early morning (when waiting for the 7am bus) you see large trucks use the road to get onto SH29a. It’s going to require a careful balance to improve access for residents in Welcome Bay (including those that live in the more rural areas), but not make it so good that it attracts other traffic that use it as a short cut and the congestion levels simply return for Welcome Bay residents.

  4. In general, there needs to be increased maintenance spend. The council has under invested in maintaining the roads and as a result staff have “sweated the assets” which are getting to end of life. In addition, things like missing sections of footpath, replacement of old kerb and channel etc. have not been able to be built as there is no budget. Staff have increased the transport maintenance budget significantly in the draft LTP and Commissioners have understood the explanation for the increase and supported it. It is really important the new Council keeps that as a lot of transport assets will start to fail in the next 3-5 years without intervention before then. The issue staff have is that there are other areas that are even worse and so they are priority. Council had 20% of its network built in the 80’s/90’s when the city rapidly grew, but maintenance budgets were not increased to allow for that and were actually cut to reduce rate increases.

Next Steps

My goal is to drop traffic volumes by 10%. Traffic volumes only drop by 10% on average when students are not being taken to and from school, but the roads have noticeably less congestion. It is only a 10% reduction in volume, but its impact is significant on congestion.

Traffic Signals are required at the James Cook Drive intersection and a roundabout at Waitaha Road. The roundabout is planned to be built soon. Both of these help the traffic get out of the side roads onto Welcome Bay Road. A pedestrian crossing is needed near Kaitemako Road as there are high numbers of school kids that cross the road to catch the school buses and with the traffic volumes on Welcome Bay Road its hard to do so safely.

It's critical that the 15th/Turret project progresses ASAP to improve traffic for the area. With the Takitimu Northern Link (TNL) off ramp exit planned to be built at 15th Ave by Waka Kotahi, there will be significant added pressure to that road as it connects to SH29a, so the changes are needed before that is built in late 2026/early 2027. The variable lane option planned is a good solution and will ease the congestion until ultimately a 4-lane option is built.

Additionally, the rural part of Welcome Bay (Waitao area) should be transferred to TCC as it is a significant road for the ward and the Regional Council does not have the resources to maintain it to the standard it needs to be. It is really Welcome Bay anyway, so it makes sense for TCC to take it over and fix the road.

Photo cred: Scott Yeoman, NZ Herald