Road safety on SH2 to top agenda at community meeting after horror crash

By John Cousins -
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Western Bay police area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton at the crash scene on Tuesday night. Photo / George Novak
Western Bay police area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton at the crash scene on Tuesday night. Photo / George Novak

The deaths of five Tongans in a crash outside Aongatete Coolstores has put safety on State Highway 2 "front and centre" of a community meeting at Katikati tonight.

"It will be standing room only," Western Bay Mayor Ross Paterson said, strongly hinting that the speed limit may be lowered.

A car carrying Tongan packhouse workers and a logging truck collided on Tuesday night, killing all five men in the car.

The meeting, to be attended by Minister of Transport Simon Bridges and Coromandel MP Scott Simpson, was originally called to allow the community to express their frustration at the impact of trucks through Katikati's shopping centre.

Paterson said Katikati's Tongan community were part of the town and the council would help with the aftermath of the crash.

That help could include catering for an official service or function, communications for things like fundraising and assisting with funeral costs.

He said he would push for the NZ Transport Agency to fast-track its programme of safety works along SH2 from its current target of three to five years.

"I am saying the focus should be one to two years."

The mayor signalled that reducing the speed limit to Katikati may have to be looked at.

The problem wasn't just the increasingly busy roads that intersected with SH2 but access from private driveways, he said.

The crash was also high on the agenda of a meeting yesterday of the Waikato/Bay of Plenty branch of the New Zealand Road Transport Forum.

SH2 has long been seen as a dangerous stretch of road. Photo / George Novak
SH2 has long been seen as a dangerous stretch of road. Photo / George Novak

Director Derek Dumbar said it was one of the most dangerous roads in the country and the Government needed to look at long-term alternatives such as a highway north of where the Northern Link would come out, and a tunnel through the Kaimais at their narrowest point behind Hot Springs Rd, between Aongatete and Katikati.

In the meantime, Dumbar said, the agency had to get on with safety improvements.

The NZ Transport Agency's Bay of Plenty highways manager Niclas Johansson said there had been 64 deaths and serious crashes on SH2 from Tauranga to Katikati in the past five years.

Data showed "many of the crashes on this stretch of road have been caused by distracted drivers, with head-on crashes and run-off-road crashes the most common cause of death and serious injury", he said.

The road was one of the most complex in the country, he said.

"More safety improvements are planned over the next 10 years, focused on the highest-risk sections between Athenree to Katikati and Omokoroa to Te Puna.

Over the past five years, the Transport Agency has made around $12 million worth of safety changes designed to reduce death and serious injury crashes on SH2 between Tauranga and Waihi.

Changes included widening the road, installing guard rails to prevent run-off road crashes and wide centre-lines to reduce the risk of head-on crashes.

"We also upgraded a number of intersections to make it easier for people to turn on to SH2."

Bridges said SH2 was a complex, treacherous bit of road because of the topology and the combination of vehicles that used it.

Western Bay police area commander Inspector Clifford Paxton said the road presented "significant challenges" for police.

"It continues to remain challenging and it can be particularly unforgiving given the large volume of traffic that uses it."

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