Watchmans Rd intersection Napier 14

 Kate Palmer

One of the country’s highest risk intersections has undergone a dramatic transformation in a project that will deliver positive outcomes for road users, the local community, visitors, and rare native local wildlife.  

September 16 was the official opening of the $13 million-dollar Watchman’s Road roundabout,  jointly funded by the New Zealand Transport Agency, Hawke’s Bay Airport and Napier City Council. The new development provides a safer environment for all road users, enables traffic to integrate smoothly and safely, and caters for growth driven by increased volumes through the Napier Port and Hawkes Bay Airport.  

Josh Taylor, WSP Opus Transportation and Design Team Leader Napier, has been involved from the start and says the team were delighted to work on a project that delivered such significant benefits to the region. 

“It’s been wonderful to have played a part in something that will positively impact the region. Putting in boardwalks for walking and cycling that connect to the local cycle trail means that locals can get out and make the most of the stunning area, which has been designed with their safety and enjoyment in mind. I’m also really proud of the attention that went into protecting such a significant environment, for me that’s a standout,” he says.  

Prior to transformation to a roundabout, the intersection of SH2 with Meanee Quay and Watchman Road was the 5th highest risk intersection in New ZealandBetween 2003 and 2012 one person died at the intersection and 31 were injured, seven of them seriously, in a total of 20 crashes.  

The redevelopment involved the construction of a roundabout at the intersection, the widening and strengthening of Watchman Road, and the construction of a new road from Hawke’s Bay Airport to link to Watchman Road.  

Crucial to the success of the project was ensuring minimal impact to the surrounding Ahuriri Estuary and Westshore Wildlife Reserve, a wetland of national and ecological significance. Over 70 species of bird have been sighted in the area, including threatened species like the godwit (Kuaka), royal spoonbill, Australasian bittern, New Zealand dabchick, banded dotterel and black-billed gull. It’s also an important habitat for eels, fish and some shellfish. 

Mr Taylor says that pushing a road through an estuary required some agile thinking to offset the loss of vital bird-resting areas. 

We worked closely with Tony Billing (an independent wildlife consultant) to enhance existing and develop habitat and shallow lakes to provide a safe resting area for wildlife. This has already resulted in increased wildlife activity in the area and bird life is thriving.”  

That appreciation for birds has been carried all the way through the design, with art embedded in the overall project. From the air, the shape of a kuaka becomes visible; the roundabout is the eye of the bird and the traffic island to the north-east forms the beak. Local artist Jacob Scott has created stunning artwork in the form of 150 godwits on poles (2-3m up in the air) and 5 large Pou structures. 

Award-winning WSP Opus landscape architect Stefan Steyn and urban designer Nick Aiken integrated the art, native planting and walkway-cycle ways into an attractive new feature of the cycle ways and a new gateway to Napier-Ahuriri and the Heretaunga Plains from the north and from the airport. 

Tight deadlines meant the project needed all hands-on-deck to make things happen, with WSP Opus managing the geometric design, drawing production, planning consenting, landscape and urban design. 

“It was a total team effort. We brought in a geometric designer from Hamilton, Nelson Turvey, who based himself in Napier for the project and brought in Dave Dixon from Dunedin as another draftsman. A proactive approach to community engagement and environmental consenting from planner Andrew Sowersby and recreation consultant Michele Frey led to wide community acceptance and speedy RMA consenting. As a result of this amazing effort we were able to complete the design on time,” Mr Taylor says. 

It also saw the WSP Opus team working closely with consultants from other organisations, requiring a genuinely authentic approach to collaboration to ensure planning and consent went through on time. 

Often you’ll hear lip service paid to collaboration, but this was the way of it on this project. To ensure delivery of the NZ Transport Agency’s project we worked closely with Beca, MWH (Stantec) and GHD to put the best minds against work streams. We had to work hard to stitch everything together but, to the credit of everyone involved, it was an excellent outcome.”  

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Seven WSP Opus experts will be presenting at this year's NZPI Conference - Weaving the Strands. The conference streams are natural resources, settlements, practice and theory, climate change, and the future of planning.  In weaving the strands, the conference themes will be considered from the perspectives (or threads) of leadership, integration and collaboration, Māori and indigenous planning, technology and science, and culture.