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In pondering what I would write in my first column for 2023, the expressway kept popping up in my head.

For someone who grew up on the Waitohu plateau with the sound of steam trains filtering through my bedroom window at night, I’m pretty familiar with Ōtaki’s transportation nuances. I don’t recall the sound of heavy traffic or regular emergency sirens in those days, but that was to come.

I do remember my mother in the family’s Austin A30 negotiating her way out of Te Manuao Road, but it was a cursory look left and right, foot never quite firmly enough on the clutch to prevent the graunching of gearstick into first, and then out onto the highway with nary a car in sight.

In my days at Ōtaki College I would also walk each school day down The Ramp and back again after rugby practice, or at night after gymnastics training with the irrepressible Mari Housiaux. If I had an apple I would attempt, always unsuccessfully, to drop it down the funnel of the aforementioned steam train as it hurled up smoke under The Ramp.

So I have years of memories of an Ōtaki that has in recent times changed rapidly. New subdivisions are popping up on blocks of land that I knew as being tilled by market gardening families. The Railway shopping area no longer has a butcher, a pharmacist and a milk bar. We now have a sex shop and soon, not one but two vape shops.

And we now have an expressway.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve glanced many times at movement that in my subconsciousness shouldn’t be there. At the shops I look to the east and expect to see a train, but it’s now just the steady flow of traffic on the expressway.

This big strip of black has changed Ōtaki forever, much like the railway through to Longburn did when the last sleeper was laid in 1886.

Having been on the Elevate Ōtaki committee in its first years, I knew there would be change, and I spent a lot of time thinking about what that would look like and how any adverse effects could be mitigated.

But now the expressway is here, there seem to be only benefits. Sure, it’s too early to determine how retailers will fare, but the indications are positive.

What is clear is that people who live here – and those who are visiting – are experiencing a more relaxed environment without the stress of massive traffic volumes, and with the ability to travel more safely to other towns and cities.

Times have changed. And for once it feels like some of the carefree days of old have returned. Now I’m looking for an apple and a steam train.



Ian Carson is editor of Ōtaki Today.





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New road evokes memories of apples and steam trains

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