The highway south of Picton where seven people died in a head-on collision this month was a road with “issues”, but it wasn’t the main focus for those tasked with looking after Marlborough’s roads.
By Maia Hart, Local Democracy Reporter
The Marlborough Regional Transport committee meets three times a year to thrash out priorities for the region’s roads. They actually met two days before the fatal crash on State Highway 1.
Committee chairperson, and councillor, Francis Maher said their main focus, or something they were “looking at seriously”, was a stretch of highway south of Blenheim, at Riverlands, where a driver died in a crash in 2020.
That crash was one of three fatal crashes in the space of a fortnight on the south Marlborough highway, over a 20-kilometre stretch. Meanwhile, a three-vehicle crash at Riverlands, in May that year, put five people in hospital.
“All our roading systems could benefit from some upgrades in terms of safety and this Government has put a lot of emphasis on it... but it’s about having money to do the work. It’s terrible to think that when people have lost their lives, but that’s the reality.”
The Government last year set aside $2.9 billion for roads nationally, as part of its Road to Zero campaign.
As part of that, Waka Kotahi carried out a technical engineering assessment of speed limits on SH1, between Picton and Seddon, earlier this year. It took into account the road itself, traffic volumes, the crash history, and the way people were travelling on the roads.
Waka Kotahi said there had been five fatalities and 21 serious injury crashes in the past decade over the 26km from Picton to Seddon. Side barriers were installed between Picton and Blenheim, from 2013 to 2018, for $2.5 million.
The findings of the engineering assessment earlier this year would inform any future decisions on changes to speed limits, a Waka Kotahi spokesperson said. But she said it was too early to tell if there was a section or sections to prioritise at this stage.
“The study’s technical assessment findings are completed. Consultation, if approved, for an interim speed management plan, could occur late 2022 or early 2023,” the spokesperson said.
At this stage, there was no suggestion speed played a part in the fatal crash on June 19, but Maher said the region’s roads would be “a lot safer at a lower speed”.
Although, the highway south of Picton had always been a “road with issues” due to its hilly terrain, he said.
“We don't want to get too hung up on speed, but quite frankly it is a factor,” Maher said.
Maher said he thought people were “starting to get the message about speed” though, following the speed reductions along SH6, from Blenheim to Nelson.
A fatal crash, near Kaituna, the day after the SH1 crash was the first serious crash on SH6 between Blenheim and Nelson since the speed limit was lowered in 2020.
Maher said every time he heard about another fatality he wondered if the road was up to scratch or the speed limit was too high.
But prioritising improvements wasn’t easy, he said.
“If you do one thing tomorrow, the accident happens at a different place the day after. It’s unfortunate we have to learn from other people’s dreadful mistakes and misfortune,” Maher said.
Waka Kotahi land transport director Kane Patena said the organisation was helping the police serious crash unit with its investigations into the crash on June 19, and would carry out its own review of the SH1 crash site. This was a normal process after fatal crashes on highways.
There would be a focus on whether any road or roadside factors contributed to the crash, and any safety improvements that could be made, Patena said.
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