Seven accidents in three years at the entrance to the Whakatāne Bridge

Tracy Watson has repaired the same fence seven times in three years after vehicles drove through it leaving the Pekatahi Bridge, just south of Whakatāne.

She says it’s only a matter of time before someone is killed.

“Every morning I come here to feed the cattle and breathe a sigh of relief if the fence is still in place and my cattle are not in the way. My real worry is that one day I will go up and find someone has died in an accident” , said.

After raising the issue with his local Whakatāne ward councillor, Andrew Iles, Watson was able to meet with two staff members from the New Zealand Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi, on Thursday to discuss the issue.

After speaking to her, Eastern Bay of Plenty senior network manager Andreas Senger and regional security officer Adam Francis began assessing the site for security improvements.

Andrew Iles speaks to Waka Kotahi, New Zealand Transport Agency East Bay senior network manager Andreas Senger and regional safety officer Adam Francis about the need to improve safety on the Pekatahi Bridge.

Iles said he would like to find a long-term solution to the problem before someone dies.

The 100-year-old Tāneatua single-lane bridge was originally built for trains, which no longer used it. For this reason, road access was established at an angle to the bridge. Traffic lights end controlled traffic, when drivers had the patience to wait for them.

The bridge was an integral part of State Highway 2 for traffic heading to Gisborne or East Cape from the upper half of the North Island. The speed limit on the bridge, which was frequently closed for repairs, was 100 kilometers per hour.

For the past five years, Watson has been renting the meadow at the end of the White Pine Bush Bridge where vehicles ended up if they didn’t turn at the end of the bridge.

The incidents have become more frequent in recent months, and the last two incidents occurred within a few days of each other, he said.

“People don’t realize how tight the curve is and they take it too fast. “People’s driving is getting really bad,” he said.

The most recent victim of vehicles leaving the Pekatahi Bridge too quickly still lies in the paddock.

The chevron-shaped signs directing traffic to turn right at the end of the bridge had been repeatedly removed, either accidentally or by vandals, he said.

“A person came down from the bridge, picked up the sign, passed it through my fence, about 30 meters across the meadow and left the sign there.

“I arrived in the morning and my fence was destroyed. The vehicles almost always disappear in the morning.”

Since then, he tied one of the battered chevron signs to his door and another to the corner filter post and had to badger authorities to put up a new sign.

The most recent accident involved an elderly couple who paid him for damage to their fence.

On another occasion, the New Zealand Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi, repaired the fence.

More often than not, it has been her and her husband’s responsibility to make the repairs themselves.

The White Pine Bush entrance to the single lane Pekatahi Bridge, which is controlled by traffic lights.

“I’m on my fourth gate in the last two years,” he said. “I must have paid over $1000 on gates and fence posts.

Of the debris left behind the accident, he said at least one of the accidents was a truck, which snapped a large filter pole in half.

“One was a motorcycle. I don’t know how it survived, because it bent the door completely into a V shape.”

I also frequently saw people running red lights as they entered the bridge.

He would like the road to be better aligned for safety or for cameras to be installed to monitor traffic.

“To me it has become a safety issue and I really think they need to re-evaluate the exit from the bridge and the entrance to the bridge.”

The bridge is on Waka Kotahi’s renovation schedule and will be replaced in 2037.

But many people in Eastern Bay would like to see it replaced sooner, including Tracy Watson.

“It’s the danger of the way the bridge is installed right now and the fact that they keep repairing it and it’s just a Band-Aid. All the boards come up all the time and the seal comes off. So they fix it. Those up there, but they will only be released again two months later.”

LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.