Waitomo road 'awaiting another accident'

Kirsten Steinke and Kenneth Kallan Stithem.
Kirsten Steinke and Kenneth Kallan Stithem.

The Transport Agency has been told to get a move on with changes to a notorious Waitomo intersection.

American woman Jean Stithem, whose honeymooning son Kenneth Kallan Stithem, 31, died at the intersection of state highways 3 and 37 last September, is frustrated with the time it is taking the agency to put proposed intersection changes out for public consultation.

Mr Stithem died when his hire car collided with a concrete truck. His bride, Kirsten Steinke, received serious injuries and spent months in recovery in New Zealand and the US.

"So typical, government red tape," Mrs Stithem said in an email to the Waikato Times.

"I just keep my fingers crossed and pray that there is not another accident at that intersection, because if there is even a serious fender bender with injuries heads may start to roll."

NZTA is saying little about the four proposals, but has previously said consultation would start this month.

Now, it says the proposals on the table are not ready to undergo public scrutiny.

NZTA principal safety engineer Michelle Te Wharau said the agency had planned to hold an open day this month to obtain public feedback on options to improve the intersection.

But the viability of the proposals needed to be thoroughly reviewed before being made public.

The public open day will now be held late next month or early September.

"We will let the local community and wider public know as soon as we have confirmed a day and date," she said.

The intersection is well known to Waitomo residents as an accident black spot - a near-blind corner intersecting with a state highway where the speed limit is 100kmh.

But despite the delays, Waitomo District Mayor Brian Hanna said he was not aware of frustration within the community.

"They want to come up with the right solution.

"I know it has been nearly 12 months, but the traffic is slowing down and there have been no accidents in the meantime."

He said residents seemed to understand the NZTA wanted to "get things right".

"That's been a dangerous intersection for years.

"It is a genuine black spot and we want a solution that fixes it once and for all."

Mr Stithem's death followed that of Canadian tourist Michele Smith in an almost identical accident when the campervan she was a passenger in, driven by her husband Douglas, collided with a truck in February 2012.

Both deaths came months after NZTA changed the layout of the road, installing a pair of traffic islands which unfamiliar drivers often mistook for a roundabout.

The speed limit of 100kmh was reduced to 70kmh after the accident but Mrs Stithem, who has visited the site of her son's death, does not think that is slow enough.

"Such a simple start is to get the speed reduced to 35 miles per hour [56kmh] for that intersection. That way all drivers will have time to react.

"Unless something is done soon, that intersection is just another accident waiting to happen." 

Waikato Times