Parts of Q'town road network on the brink of failure
An explosion in the number of rental units and AirBnB could be behind chronic traffic congestion that is paralysing parts of Queenstown on a daily basis.
Frankton, Lakes Hayes Estate, Shotover Country and Glenda Drive/Hawthorne Drive represent the hardest hit areas with many drivers reporting 100 metres taking 10 minutes to travel in the late afternoon - that's less than one kilometre an hour. The congestion around Queenstown airport is now threatening to become a solid ring of traffic - total gridlock - as the summer tourist season starts to heat up.
In the morning peak hour periods some motorists trying to get out from Lake Hayes Estate and Shotover Country have reported covering just 10 metres in 5 minutes as they struggle to join State Highway 6 traffic that can be backed up past the Amisfield/Arrowtown turnoff heading into Queenstown.
Cherie Campbell represents the Shotover Country Community and she is convinced that people renting sleepouts, garages and entire houses is the main cause of the meltdown. "When we bought our place four years ago there were only one or two cars per household. Now there's up to eight cars per address. Some people have just left Queenstown because of the traffic and cost of living - but rented their house out to get the income."
"Crime has also gone up because of the itinerant population, and we have cars hurtling down quiet side streets at crazy speeds when there's children about" says Ms Campbell.
But the increasingly serious congestion in the late afternoon around the airport seems to have a different cause. Intense development of shopping centres and new residential developments have put much more pressure on the road network, and many of those developments are not even finished yet. The new $22 million Hawthorne Drive, otherwise known as the Eastern Access Road, had an initial positive effect on traffic delays, but now threatens to become part of the problem.
"I told NZTA that the new road would help for 18 months before things got worse" says Mayor Jim Boult in a Crux interview earlier this week. "It turns out that it worked for only around a year - and now we need new roading solutions."
The Orbus $2 buses have also helped ease the load by getting many people out of their cars - over 1.2 million passengers just in the first year - but now the buses themselves are getting trapped in chronic traffic choke points.
The Mayor has told Crux on a number of occasions that he is frustrated that the NZTA cannot get ahead of the curve instead of playing catch up.
There are a number of critical local roading elements that are rapidly becoming urgent, even emergency, situations:
- The Edith Cavell bridge at Arthur's Point is already carrying traffic flows that weren't supposed to happen until 2022.
- A second crossing of the Kawarau River will be needed to cater for Jacks Point and Hanleys Farm residents to travel into Frankton and Queenstown, especially as the Remarkables Park development grows in size.
- SH6 between the BP roundabout and the airport is in urgent need of a four lane upgrade.
- The Shotover Bridge will struggle to cope with extra traffic flows as new sub-divisions, and an expected new hospital, are built in the Ladies Mile area.
- Frankton Road is already running at capacity with no realistic options to widen the road.
The NZTA says that it is across these issues and is working closely with the QLDC and Otago Regional Council to deliver "sustainable and long lasting solutions."
A Memorandum of Understanding is due to be signed this month that will lock the three parties into working together.
They will be specifically looking a the following aspects of Queenstown's transportation challenges.
- Queenstown Town Centre (detailed business case)
- Frankton to Queenstown (single stage business case)
- Wakatipu Active Travel Network (single stage business case)
- Grant Road to Kawarau Falls Bridge (detailed business case)
- Frankton Masterplan (programme business case)
- Lake Wakatipu Public Water Ferry Service (detailed business case)
- Queenstown Transport Modelling (to feed into business case projects)
While all of this sounds positive it might be a case of too much too late. Crux shot this video at the junction of Stalker Road and State Highway 6 just after 8.00 am this morning.
What this junction, and the critical Lake Hayes Estate/Queenstown Country Club intersection back towards Arrowtown, will be like this summer is a truly terrifying thought. In addition, the network of roads around Queenstown airport is showing every sign of potential failure due to the sheer volume of traffic. It is worth noting that in producing this story we saw no evidence at all that the road works at Tucker Beach Road are having any significant effect on traffic congestion.
In a statement to Crux this morning the NZTA said it had two specific traffic monitoring systems in place - at the stop of Stanley Street and at the BP roundabout. There was no mention of any monitoring of the SH6 Hawthorne Drive roundabout or the roads accessing Lake Hayes Estate and Shotover Country.
We have already passed Auckland in terms of average house prices and the cost of renting accommodation, perhaps the next milestone will be having the lowest average speed on the commute to work?