Road rage: Drivers spit on, physically threaten Waikato workers

Thu, Jun 1
Section of State Highway 1 between Horotiu and Taupiri.

Road workers on a major roading project in Waikato have been spat on and physically threatened by passing motorists who are frustrated by traffic congestion.

The workers are carrying out major remedial works and safety improvements on State Highway 1 between Horotiu and Taupiri, which is part of the Waikato Expressway.

Waka Kotahi said the changes would bring that section of the Waikato Expressway up to the 110km/h standard as neighbouring sections.

Waka Kotahi infrastructure delivery manager Jo Wilton said motorists went as far as driving into active construction sites to avoid queuing last week.

"In recent months, workers have been spat on, verbally abused and threatened after people got out of a car," she said.

"Last week, vehicles drove into live work areas to avoid queuing.

"These actions are putting road workers at risk, and that is simply unacceptable."

Temporary safety barriers are in place to separate about 20,000 vehicles a day from the workers, which means the site is restricted to one lane in each direction.

"At times, there are 20 or more people working on this project site — and most of them live local. They are your neighbours, your community, your people," Wilton said.

"They are doing their jobs and they shouldn't have to put up with abuse or tolerate dangerous driving."

"They are doing their jobs and they shouldn’t have to put up with abuse or tolerate dangerous driving," Waka Kotahi said.

Fletcher Construction's health and safety general manager Carla Tonks said abusing road workers only succeeded in making the construction period longer.

"Our number one priority is the safety of our teams, and if they are being threatened and abused, we have to stop what we're doing to keep them safe."

Wilton said motorists were out of line to take their frustration out on the workers.

"This project has had some challenges with resourcing, weather and contractual requirements, and timeframes have had to be pushed out. But that's not the fault of the workers."

The project's work involves reshaping and sealing the median area, drainage improvements and pavement treatments depending on the existing pavement condition, Waka Kotahi said.

"The safety improvements are seeing side barriers made continuous, some barriers upgraded, additional maintenance and turnaround bays for emergency services, shoulder widening and some lighting relocations."

A final "continuous asphalt surface" will be finished in May 2024, but officials said they are "continuing to look at programming and resources to have the work finished earlier".