Waitomo's killer intersection to be moved

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 05:00 17/01/2014
Kirsten Steinke
Waikato DHB

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

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Waitomo's killer intersection is to be moved 100 metres north with the construction of a $3.1 million roundabout.

The NZ Transport Agency is promising to start construction of a three-legged roundabout north of the existing intersection of State Highways 3 and 37 next summer, meaning temporary traffic-calming measures implemented after the death of American tourist Kenneth Stithem will have been in place for two years.

SH37 will be realigned to improve its link to the new SH3 intersection and a right-turn bay introduced on SH3 for Mangarino Rd.

Mr Stithem, 31, died in September 2012 after the agency made what locals described as confusing changes to the intersection. His hire car, which he was driving with his new wife, Kirsten, collided with a concrete truck.

Canadian tourist Michele Smith died in a similar crash seven months earlier.

Mr Stithem's mother Jean said the agency should have acted years ago.

"If the speed limit had been slower - in the past - then probably the accidents could have been avoided or at least not have been fatalities.

"It sounds like the transportation department is going to make sure this time that the traffic slows down [and] not just rely on speed-limit signs."

The speed limit was reduced by 20kmh to 80kmh after her son's death.

"Locals as well as tourists will not have to risk their lives every time they exit. I am pleased, to say the least," Mrs Stithem said.

"Sounds like they listened to the locals."

The three-legged roundabout was one of four options put before the King Country community in August by the transport agency which has taken since then to weigh up all the pros and cons.

Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna welcomed the proposal but was frustrated at having to wait until next summer for the work to be done.

Principal safety engineer Michelle Te Wharau acknowledged the wait.

"We know the public wanted us to go faster but it is important to get the best solution and be sure that it will achieve the safety improvements we need at this location," she said.

"We're committed to reducing the risk of crashes at this intersection as part of creating a safer transport system through safer roads and roadsides, safer use, safer vehicles and safer speeds.

"We ask that motorists do their bit too, particularly as we approach the busy summer holiday period, by ensuring they travel at safe speeds, take extra care when turning, and remain alert for any unexpected vehicle movements."

About 6500 vehicles a day pass the turnoff on SH3, 1300 a day use SH37 and 450 vehicles a day use Mangarino Rd. 

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- Waikato Times

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