High-risk road fixes can't come too soon

By Emily Norman, Alisa Yong -
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A cross remembering 17-year-old Kane Thomas O'Donovan, who was killed in a car crash at Mt Bruce in September 2013. PHOTO/FILE
A cross remembering 17-year-old Kane Thomas O'Donovan, who was killed in a car crash at Mt Bruce in September 2013. PHOTO/FILE

A Featherston man who lost his grandson in a fatal car crash near Mt Bruce says safety improvements to the road could have made a "big difference" to the crash.

The NZ Transport Agency yesterday announced plans to spend $600 million on a national road safety programme, with $4.3 million already earmarked for the stretch of SH2 between Carterton and Masterton, and an as yet unconfirmed amount to be spent on Mt Bruce and the Rimutaka Hill.

The announcement comes just weeks after a head-on collision near Mt Bruce claimed the lives of two men.

More than 90 high-risk sites on rural highways where there have been five or more fatalities in the last five years have been selected for the safety improvements.

The transport agency said potential changes to the road between Carterton and Masterton could include side barriers at high-risk locations and shoulder widening to allow for median treatment.

Les O'Donovan, the grandfather of Pahiatua teen Kane Thomas O'Donovan - who was killed in 2013 when his car veered off the road - said safety barriers may have prevented the car from going into a ditch.

The 17-year-old had been on the way to visit his grandparents in Featherston when he lost control on a twisty, downhill part of the road, Mr O'Donovan said.

"I've driven up that way lots, and that wider part is beautiful to drive, but that other bit is quite a contrast, so I think [improvements] would make a big difference.

"And if it was straightened out it would certainly make a big difference."

All it took was a second's inattention, Mr O'Donovan said.

"It doesn't take much, and the young ones think they are better drivers than they are."

Almost three years after the crash, he still thinks about his grandson every day.

"I still haven't really got over it, to be honest. It's just the young age ... the thing that really gets you is he had the potential to make a really good person. A lot of kids moan or grizzle, but he just would go and do things. He was awesome.

"He'd make a cup of tea or do the dishes, you didn't have to force him, he just did it. It was a real sad loss."

Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling said any roading or structural improvements were a "great thing for Wairarapa".

"We welcome, absolutely welcome, any improvement that's going to stop deaths and serious injuries.

"If you're talking safety on roads, there's a number of elements; there's safe vehicles, safe roads and roadsides, safe speeds, and safe user behaviour.

"This is obviously a large investment in one of those cornerstones.

"Anything we can do to improve the safety of anybody travelling through Wairarapa, we welcome."

The investigation into the Mt Bruce and Rimutaka Hill improvements is expected to begin either this year or next, with work due to start on the Carterton to Masterton improvements in mid-2017.

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