By Graham Skellern
Driving in Tauranga is now a constant struggle any time of day, an official report reveals.
Motorists face regular traffic congestion and time delays throughout the day - even on weekends.
Transit New Zealand's latest travel time survey shows congestion has risen in the city across all time periods, particularly at weekends.
"Congestion is an all-day occurrence and is not confined to peak periods," the survey said. The difference between peak and off-peak travel time in Tauranga was less than for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby was not surprised by the survey results.
"You only need to drive down Cameron Rd at 2pm, let alone when the colleges come out ... it's a real struggle. The increasing congestion is not just tied to the morning and afternoon peaks.
"The cross-harbour traffic between 10am and 2pm on Saturdays is heavy, caused by a mixture of shoppers and parents taking their kids to sport," said Mr Crosby.
He said the streets had become more clogged because of the growth within the city and the extra cross-region traffic travelling from the Waikato through Tauranga to Rotorua and Whakatane.
"That's why we need to pursue the whole of the strategic roading network and get it finished. We can have a two to four-lane expressway, with grade separations, from Tauriko to Te Maunga and this will significantly lessen the congestion.
"If we left it any longer then we would end up like Auckland. But we can't just build roads - we need an integrated transport package where good roading, walkway and cycleway and public transport systems work together," said Mr Crosby.
Tauranga MP Bob Clarkson said if Auckland's congestion was very bad then "ours is just bad because traffic still flows - but it's heading for disaster. We can't even afford to wait another four years to have the second harbour bridge built.
"I left the airport at 11am on Saturday to go home across the bridge and I couldn't get down flipping Hewletts Rd."
Mr Clarkson said the (new) bridge could be built in 20 months - it's the connecting viaduct that will take up most of the time.
"Why don't we upgrade the alternative 15th Ave/Turret Rd route and send 15 per cent extra traffic around that way while the bridge is being built? That's commonsense because we will be in dire straits with congestion when Harbour Link is being constructed," said Mr Clarkson.
The Transit NZ survey showed that motorists in Tauranga have been forced to drop their speed on the city roads and stay patient behind the steering wheel.
Transit's November 2005 survey revealed the average all day speed was 51 kmh compared with 57 kmh in April 2003.
The travel speed in the 4pm-6pm peak had dropped from 54kmh to 50kmh in the 12-month period from November 2004.
The late afternoon traffic and congestion was now similar to the morning peak between 7.30am to 9.30am.
The average weekend speed slipped from 60kmh in April 2003 to 54kmh in November 2005 - the lowest weekend speed yet recorded.
During the weekend motorists are experiencing delays of 20.4 seconds per one kilometre, compared with 12sec in April 2003.
For the first time, the latest reading was just above the weekday inter-peak delay of 19.8sec a kilometre.
Roly Frost, Transit NZ general manager network operations, said a motorist travelling in Tauranga on a Saturday will experience a similar level of congestion than during a weekday inter-peak period (from 10am to 3pm).
He said the greatest increase in congestion occurred in 4-6pm peak period.
But motorists were facing an increasing level of uncertainty in travel time during the weekend.
Transit NZ has surveyed eight main routes.
These include Hewletts Rd and the Harbour Bridge, Cameron Rd and Marsh St, Cambridge Rd, Takitimu Dr, Fraser St/11th Ave/Devonport Rd, Maunganui Rd/Rata St/Totara St, and Papamoa Beach Rd and Girven Rd.