New $3m roundabout for killer Waitomo intersection

TRAGIC: Kenneth Stithem and Kirsten Steinke were honeymooning in New Zealand at the time of the crash that killed Mr Stithem.
TRAGIC: Kenneth Stithem and Kirsten Steinke were honeymooning in New Zealand at the time of the crash that killed Mr Stithem.

A $3 million roundabout will be built at the notorious King Country intersection where an American man on his honeymoon was killed in.

New Zealand Transport Agency announced the plans for the new roundabout at the Waitomo Caves intersection of State Highways 3 and 37 after feedback from the public and research on crashes at the site.

American tourist Kallan Stithem, 31, died after his car collided with a concrete mixer truck at the intersection in September 2012. His bride, Kirsten Steinke was in the car when it pulled out into the path of a truck on the Waitomo Cave Road.

The crash occurred seven months after Canadian tourist Michele Smith died in the same spot.

SH3 is the main route between Taranaki and the Waikato. Some Taranaki truckies are unhappy money is being spent on the roundabout as they believe it could be put to better use elsewhere on the network. They say a poorly maintained State Highway 3 in north Taranaki is tearing their vehicles apart and needs urgent attention.

And the owner of one of the region's biggest trucking firms, John Hickman of JD Hickman, is calling for a go-slow to get their point across to the Government.

"The plan is to travel everywhere at 70kmh," Mr Hickman said.

While the go-slow would save damage to trucks, make it easier on the drivers and lower costs "it would annoy a hell of a lot of motorists."

Road Transport Association western region spokesman Tom Cloke said while the NZTA was prepared to spend big money at Waitomo, the road north of New Plymouth was crying out for money to be spent on black spots such as the SH3A and Richmond Rd intersections.

"The truckies are now calling it Patch Highway and when you look at it, you can see that it is."

Mr Cloke said his association met with the agency in Hamilton this week to express their disapproval at what they believe was a waste of money at Waitomo when the road further south was being neglected.

While the option to move the Waitomo intersection further north was seen as a good option, it was sheer waste for $3.1m to be spent on a roundabout, he said.

The transport agency's principal safety engineer, Michelle Te Wharau said the agency made no apologies for improving safety for all motorists which is what the roundabout would do.

The project was about improving safety at the intersections of SH3/37 and SH3 and Mangarino Rd, she said.

"The feedback from those who attended our public open day reflected a strong desire that we minimise the risk of death and serious injury should someone make a mistake at these intersections.

"Roundabouts provide safety benefits as they encourage slower speeds on their approach and the impact from a crash is less likely to result in death or serious injury.

"This intersection has a poor crash history and we make no apologies for improving the safety for all motorists, which this roundabout solution will do."

Ms Te Wharau confirmed the agency met yesterday with the RTA and acknowledged their concerns and agreed to work with the association through the design process.