Poor communication has frustrated residents affected by the Ngaruawahia section of the Waikato Expressway.
Tanya Clancy is spokesperson for a group named ‘As a community – living with the Ngaruawahia Expressway group’. She says their biggest concern was a lack of communication from New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) who oversee the project.
“People were trying to get answers but there was no easy way to get them. We want clear communication. We’ve had a lot of information that was a little bit misleading.”
She doesn’t believe this was deliberate. “Listening to NZTA now, I don’t believe they meant to do that. I just don’t think they made it clear exactly what their intentions were.”
More than 70 residents turned up at the group’s second meeting, held at the Taupiri Memorial Hall on March 25.
“We had people from Taupiri, from Gordonton, right down to River Road. So when we talk about our community, we’re talking from Taupiri to River Rd who are having problems as well. I get calls every day.”
It started simply, she says. “For a number of years individuals had been going to NZTA and were told they were the only person complaining. ‘Oh, we haven’t heard that one before…’ It came to a head when the motorway opened in December, and the community started talking to each other; the penny dropped and hang on, we’re not the only ones.”
Following recent publicity in the paper about the group, NZTA investigated engine-braking complaints promptly, to their credit.
“There was a lot of engine braking in Taupiri throughout the night, they were down there within 24 hours checking it out, so good on them.”
Actions have included talking with trucking companies, working with the police and checking signage.
“What they’re doing is positive, it’s a slow process but they’re working through it.”
However, noise mitigation for the rest of the expressway is the next issue. “And again, it goes back to clear communication. All the communication we had from the beginning gave us the impression this would be done, that there would be noise protection and mitigation. We made the assumption that if it was noisy they would fix it.”
This turns out not to be the case and traffic noise is still a contentious issue.
“One lady at the meeting stood up and said she hadn’t had a full night’s sleep since December. The rest of the group all said ‘hear hear’.”
Noise reports are coming back at under 55 decibels, which is the New Zealand standard.
“This is across a 24-hour period and is an average. We weren’t aware of what their minimum noise levels were. This is where the confusion comes in. NZTA have met their contractual obligation on this but what we’re saying is we can cope with that at certain times, but not between 10pm and 7am – that’s when the noise gets high. It’s during the night when it’s a problem.”
Atmospheric conditions also play a factor, with foggy days tending to hold the noise in.
Eventually the road will be covered in Open Graded Porous Asphalt which reduces noise, but currently it is a heavy chip seal. The OGPA can’t be applied until the road surface has settled.
“Again, we come back to communication. At the start they said this asphalt would be used but none of us realised it couldn’t be done for months, we’re not engineers. To be asked to be patient for 12 months, when you’re not getting any sleep and you’re at the end of your tether, is a big ask. Everyone can handle situations if they know what will happen and when.”
Waikato District Council has been supportive, she says. “They’ve been fantastic since we spoke with them and said there were unhappy people out here. While their hands are tied in certain areas, they’ve been very helpful in getting information that we need. And if they haven’t been able to give it to me, they’ve been honest.”
The group is not opposed to the expressway. “We want to make this clear. It’s an important part of New Zealand’s economy, and we all recognise that.”
NZTA project services manager Peter Simcock told the Waikato Times they consulted with those who would be directly or indirectly affected by the expressway construction at the investigation and planning stage and throughout the construction process where required.
There were various opportunities during the consenting and designation process where submissions could be made. A common issue NZTA faced was when land or property ownership changed between the designation process and construction time.
Now the group is being patient, Tanya says.
“The reaction to the engine braking was good but we haven’t seen [much] on the noise with the rest of the expressway. Whether they are working on it, or not, we don’t know. They possibly are, we’ve had no communication back. We’re unsure if we have to be patient for a year, of if something is going to happen in between.”