Levin residents on the hill side of State Highway 57 say they are fed up and scared. As traffic volumes increase and more and more people are moving into the area they and their children fear for their lives each time they have to cross the Queen St intersection ... and that's several times a day for most. Horowhenua Chronicle editor Janine Baalbergen asks: What will it take for action on this dangerous crossing? The answer may surprise you.
On the edge of town, where Queen St East and State Highway 57 meet and go their separate ways, there's something growing.
It's a sense of frustration that's been festering for years as Levin locals wait for something to be done about the increasingly busy intersection.
And residents aren't the only ones who're fed up.
Horowhenua District Council says it's been pushing for a roundabout there since 2009.
Growth response manager Daniel Haigh said the intersection was rated by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) as being in the top 100 most dangerous intersections in the country. NZTA is responsible for administering the state highway network.
Haigh said NZTA deemed a roundabout not feasible "due to the efficiency impact of slowing vehicles down on SH57 outweighing the accident costs".
However, since 2013, the number of crashes at the intersection had doubled, Haigh said.
"The council, both at meetings and in letters to NZTA and the Minister of Transport, have repeatedly asked NZTA to investigate the installation of a roundabout to no avail."
One resident, Jenny Warren, said her own family had witnessed three serious accidents on that intersection in the seven years they have lived in the area.
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"More houses are being built and there are shared walkways now along both SH57 and Queen St East which attract a lot of walkers and cyclists, who have to deal with that intersection too," she said.
Her mother-in-law witnessed one of those crashes not long ago while on her way to see her grandchildren and rang crying.
"My husband raced out there and found her at the intersection still in tears and unable to move. She was so distraught. Two years ago I witnessed two cars colliding, while I was at the stop sign. One was turning off and one came racing along at 100km/h. It is awful.
"Only the other day as I was waiting for an opportunity to turn right on to SH57 the driver behind me got impatient and passed me on the left and dashed straight across the intersection along Queen St."
Warren said that over the years there were rumours of plans to do something, such as putting in a roundabout or at least limiting the speed limit to 80km/h from Roslyn to Tararua Rds.
"There appears to be no commitment regarding the expressway either, so this will go on for many more years. I think the safety improvement near Garden of York are great, but we need much more."
NZTA statistics going back to 2000 show there were 47 crashes on that intersection in the past 19 years. One of those was fatal, nine were serious, 20 were minor crashes and 17 were non-injury crashes. This takes into account that not all data for crashes in 2018 and 2019 was available, so the number could rise.
Daniel Haigh said the council's advocacy had occurred alongside its continued support for the O2NL Expressway and general safety improvements on the state highways throughout the district - much of which NZTA itself describes as high crash zones. O2NL refers to the Ōtaki to North of Levin roading project, the northernmost section of the Wellington Northern Corridor.
"Last year, the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport was released, and a new approach from NZTA was adopted – placing more emphasis on social, economic and environmental outcomes. The shift in focus from efficiency initially gave hope for a solution for this dangerous intersection – sadly, nothing has changed.
"The council is seeking a commitment from NZTA to jointly develop the O2NL and Gladstone Green Master Plan designs, specifically looking at the impacts of the O2NL corridor and potential mitigation for the Gladstone Green project including improved access across existing SH57 (Queen St and Tararua Rd Intersections with SH57)."
Gladstone Green is a proposed subdivision alongside SH57 between Queen St and Tararua Rd.
Haigh said the continued delays to the O2NL Expressway project and lack of funding for safety improvements had meant little progress had been made since the December 2018 announcement of a preferred corridor for O2NL.
"To assist future discussions with NZTA and to further understand the impacts of development and traffic growth, the council recently reviewed the 2013 NZTA report. As part of the review a camera was stationed at the intersection over the Easter Weekend 2019 - alarmingly, two side-impact accidents happened during this time and since then a serious accident occurred."
He said he believed the preliminary findings validated planning for the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of SH57 and Queen St.
"Given the above and the realisation it will take NZTA some time to make a decision, the council will now request that a temporary speed limit of 80km/h is put in place until a permanent solution is built."
The camera the council had set up over the Easter weekend to record traffic flows at the intersection was switched on only at certain anticipated high traffic-flow times, missing the two accidents that happened there. "We saw some other hairy stuff though, like a mobility scooter going across, narrowly missing cars."
Haigh said the council continued to work with NZTA on solutions but would like to have definite commitments next time they met.
Since the feasibility report was done traffic had increased both on SH1 and SH57 and the local roads leading on to these.
"We believe the figures in that 2013 report can be seen differently. Historically there has been a strong focus on efficiency of projects but now there is more attention paid to social and economic benefits of a project. The Government also wants better access to housing and more housing is planned for the area on the other side of SH57."
He said NZTA's board was committed to the expressway but much of its funding had been taken away in favour of other projects and it needed time to find the money.
"We believe our figures, compiled since 2013, give a more accurate picture of the situation and we are close to the figures stacking up. Traffic flows are up 20-30 per cent."
Haigh said the council was talking to both Transport Minister Phil Twyford and NZTA to find solution for this and other traffic issues in the district.
Jenny Warren said she'd written to Twyford and NZTA, only to get vague answers if any. She said the council was far more supportive of her quest.
NZTA's 2013 feasibility study said of the idea of putting a roundabout in at the intersection: "The BCR (benefit cost ratio) for this option was less than zero due to the high vehicle operating costs surpassing any crash savings. From an economic assessment perspective, the roundabout option is currently not feasible, but the remaining high crash rating is noted.
"Given the calculated construction costs and the travel time and VOC and CO2 disbenefits to achieve a BCR of 1.0, the crashes at this site would require:
• 3 additional fatal crashes, invalidating the EEM's fatal/serious adjustment creating a BCR of 6.7; or
• A mixture of 4 additional fatal or serious injury crashes with no more than 2 fatal crashes creating a BCR of 1.6; or
• 3 additional fatal or serious injury crashes with no more than 2 fatal and a minor injury crash creating a BCR of 1.05; or
• 24 additional minor injury crashes; or
• 50 additional non-injury crashes.
"It is nevertheless recommended that the roundabout continue to be considered as part of the overall short-, medium- and long-term strategy for Ōtaki to Levin.
"This option involves construction of a roundabout with a 48-metre diameter central island and two through lanes for SH57 traffic. Included in this option is the compatibility with a potential northbound passing lane immediately north of Queen St East and a southbound passing lane immediately south of Queen St East.
"A roundabout would help facilitate the introduction of passing lanes along this part of SH57 and would also facilitate U-turns should a wire rope median barrier be installed as is desirable for new passing lanes on highways."
The report mentions that "consideration could be given to the provision of pedestrian and cyclist facilities to better define the route across SH57 from one side of Queen St East to the other. It is understood that there is current demand for this as pedestrians and cyclists access the walking tracks in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges.
"There is a current demand for pedestrian and cyclist facilities to provide safer access across SH57 to cater for pedestrian cyclist movement along Queen St East to the walking tracks available in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges on the eastern side of SH57.
"Given the high traffic flow between Queen St East (Levin) and SH57 north of the intersection, consideration could be given to the inclusion of a separate left-turn slip lane at the proposed roundabout at the SAR stage."
The cost of the roundabout was estimated to be $3.96 million, while its NPV benefits were believed to be $1.79m.
For residents like Jenny Warren a solution is needed soon. "We use that intersection at least six times a day, the kindy, primary and high schools and the town are on the other side of the road. We must do something to slow down the through traffic.
"Too many of our neighbours are the first responders on the scene of an accident and help to direct traffic until police and ambulance arrive."
NZTA regional transport systems manager Mark Owen said NZTA was aware of safety concerns and risks at the intersection.
"We continue to monitor the intersection and are working closely with the local council to look at options to make it safer.
"On State Highway 57, safety improvements were carried out recently near the Garden of York. Changes included roadside barriers, rumble strips, wide centrelines, turning bays for both northbound and southbound traffic, and changes to make it easier to see other cars when coming in or out of the Garden of York entrance way.
"The Transport Agency has a proactive approach to managing road-safety risk which takes into account a number of different factors when looking at when and where to undertake a safety improvement project.
"We are committed to working with communities to find the right mix of safety solutions to create a transport system in which simple mistakes don't result in deaths or serious injuries.
"When complete, the new road from Ōtaki to north of Levin will improve the safety and resilience of the transport network in the region."
A spokesperson for NZTA said, "The report was prepared in 2013 and since then the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport has changed.
"The Transport Agency is still in discussion with the local council about various options to make the intersection safer – no options have yet been ruled in or out."