Emotional pressure's being heaped on the New Zealand Transport Agency to build a bypass around Katikati before it “becomes a grubby little strip town” offering no more than a pie and Coke for those brave enough to stop there.
A petition demanding a bypass has just exceeded 3000 signatures – three-quarters of the town's population. And a community leader has likened the impact of trucks and cars rumbling through the town recently to the grieving process.
“It's a process with well-documented stages including disbelief, bargaining, anger, depression and hope,” says Jenny Hobbs, a health professional and chair of the Katikati Community Board.
She claims the village lifestyle of Katikati has been wrenched from them by an unremitting stream of cars and trucks with their noise and filth. And she believes the effects can be likened to the process someone endures after the loss of a loved one.
“People feel they would like to turn back the clock and bring their loved one back. But they are powerless,” says the naturopath, nutritionist and community leader. She believes those are the exact same feelings being experienced in Katikati by people powerless to change “the profoundly damaging impact of State Highway 2 on our beloved village and lifestyle”.
Wellington is listening. “Katikati is screaming bypass, and I get that,” says Minister of Transport and Tauranga MP, Simon Bridges. “Given the strength of feeling I asked the NZTA to do some homework, to have another look.”
“I went to a public meeting on the issue and it was ferocious. I am under absolutely no illusion.”
He's hopeful the NZTA will report back with a preferred option soon. But he can't promise that option will be the one Katikati wants. “However, I would rather have happy people who feel safe and have a better environment than not.”
Jenny says they have neither, and she presents a litany of summer holiday traffic bedlam to back Katikati's case for a bypass.
There cites the case of one local who, doing the speed limit, lives four minutes from the centre of town. It took her an hour to get to the supermarket at Christmas. Another woman got snagged in a choker in Katikati and missed half of her three-hour work shift.
“There was a huge step up in traffic volumes this summer at Christmas – 15,000 to 20,000 vehicles a day on a road designed for 1950s lifestyles and traffic flows,” says Jenny.
She says traffic can't get any worse than gridlock. “But does 20,000 cars or gridlock meet the NZTA threshold for a bypass. Possibly not.”
Maybe the stories of traffic tails through Katikati over Christmas have grown with time. But The Weekend Sun has been told that on occasions the build-up of cars went all the way back to the Athenree turnoff in one direction and Work Rd in the other – in essence 30km of nose-to-tail traffic creeping into Katikati and out the other side.
Then there's the exhaust fumes and particulate matter from brakes, tyres and bitumen. “And the noise, the impossible noise. Retailers have to trade with their doors closed. Many businesses that should have succeeded have come and gone because people can't bear to spend any time in the main street.”
The community board is praying for the best but probably expecting the worst. “The NZTA has categorically said it will not build a bypass,” says Jenny. “And we get the feeling it's not making a genuine attempt at finding a way and reasons for building a bypass.”
And she wears two hats – one as a community leader and the other as a health professional, a naturopath and nutritionist – when she insists a bypass is crucial for Katikati's economic, social and physical wellbeing.
“Katikati is fighting hard to reclaim the town centre from the trucks so people don't feel trapped in their own town, so they can move safely and easily about town on both sides of Main St and where children can go places and cycle to school.”
Jenny says the Katikati Community Board wants to grow the town, develop al fresco dining, ‘funky' shops and market days – “where it's green and pedestrian-friendly, all the things that make a town attractive for visitors to stop and spend some time”. “We can't do that.”
But she says Katikati's destined to be “the grubby little strip town” which people drive through and not to.
Simon finds the issue an interesting one, and one that changes from town to town.
“When we were building the Tauranga Eastern Link there were a lot of fears in Te Puke about the road bypassing the town, leaving somewhere no-one would want to go. There is a very different feeling in Katikati.”
However, he wants to assure a decision is coming soon. “The NZTA is in the final throes of putting this together – it's not going to leave them hanging and all these issues will be taken into account.”