41 days ago

Mayor calls for action at Walnut Ave intersection

Nicole Mathewson Reporter from The Press

From local democracy reporter Jonathan Leask:

“We need to do something and it may save someone’s life.”

Ashburton mayor Neil Brown is calling for action around what he deems a serious accident waiting to happen at the Walnut Ave upgrades project.

The intersections of Walnut Ave and State Highway 1, and Walnut Ave and East St have been upgraded, but the traffic lights won’t be switched on until the end of the year once they are linked up to an upgraded rail crossing between the two intersections - which KiwiRail is still designing.

In the interim, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has left the all-but completed intersections coned off into roundabouts until KiwiRail completes the rail crossing works.

Brown said he already had concerns before coming across another crash at the site last Wednesday morning.

Brown has suggested temporarily closing the rail crossing as one potential option.

“We could sit here and we can watch it and wait for a more dangerous accident to happen or we can do something.

“Waiting for the end of the year doesn’t seem to be the right thing to do with that intersection.”

He said Kiwirail “seem to have let us down” - or the delivery of its section had been miscalculated.

“The timing just doesn’t seem to be right. We need to do something and it may save someone’s life.”

Waka Kotahi principal project manager transport services Colin McKay said contractors were reviewing safety of the whole work site and had identified a few changes that would help contribute to the safe running of the roundabout.

He said the staging of the project and the KiwiRail work always had completion of the major works by the end of the year.

Waka Kotahi’s intersection works were completed in April but KiwiRail was not ready to start on its section, however South Island general manager operations, Mark Heissenbuttel said the project was running to schedule.

“The level crossing design is progressing well and we will begin physical work later this year.

“We expect the crossing work will be completed and operational in December, and we are working hard to meet this goal.

“We appreciate people’s frustration but ask them to bear with us.”

The level crossing improvements were complex to design, he said, as it included “integrating modern traffic lights, warning bells and the like with much older rail signals in the area and resolving the signals implications of removing the third rail line at the crossing – which takes time".

“It is because of this, and some general supply chain delays with some components, due to Covid, that we could not start physical works earlier," Heissenbuttel said.

Brown has contacted Waka Kotahi and Kiwirail and invited them to appear at a council meeting to discuss the project.

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