Deadly Waikato intersection faces revamp

By Nikki Preston

The deadly Waitomo intersection which has claimed two tourists' lives this year will get a major overhaul including removing a newly installed traffic island and reducing the speed limit.

Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna's campaign for improvements to the intersection at State Highway 3 and the Waitomo Caves Rd has been answered with the Transport Agency yesterday agreeing at the Regional Transport Committee meeting to work with locals on a complete redesign.

In February Canadian Michele Smith was killed when her husband mistook the intersection for a roundabout and collided with a truck.

Then last month American newlywed Kallan Stithem died when his car was hit by a cement truck as he also tried to exit Waitomo Caves Rd on to the main highway.

Mr Stithem's parents returned home to Denver, Colorado, with their son's ashes on Wednesday and a vigil was held for him at his home town last Thursday night. Meanwhile his wife, Kirsten Steinke, is still in critical condition at Waikato Hospital.

Their families yesterday thanked everyone for their continued support, offers of help and immeasurable kindness after the September 20 crash.

But Mr Hanna said Waitomo Caves was often the first port of call for tourists stepping off the plane and the recent crashes were putting Waikato tourism at stake.

"It's quite a complex corner so obviously they [the Transport Agency] need to do some major redesigning."

He was pleased the issue was finally being taken seriously and that the Waitomo District Council would be consulted on any plans because he did not think changes to the intersection last year, including installing a large traffic island, had helped.

The agency's Waikato-Bay of Plenty regional director, Harry Wilson, said the speed had been temporarily cut from 100km/h to 70km/h and the intersection was being monitored with video surveillance this week to give engineers a better understanding of the traffic movements. The findings of the coroner's report when it was completed would also help.

Mr Wilson expected the new design to include narrowing of the lanes to slow traffic down, clearer signage and a permanent 80km/h speed limit after consultation with the local community. "It's a complex site so there's no easy solution, full-stop."

The agency has already ruled out installing a roundabout or moving the intersection because it was not good practice to build them on a rise as it reduced visibility for motorists.

Waikato road policing manager Inspector Leo Tooman said improved education for overseas travellers used to driving on the right-hand side, such as in-flight and rental-car company information, would help.

He said GPS systems could also be an issue because they told drivers to turn without acknowledging details of intersections.

- Hamilton News

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