Roads Minister Paul Toole got a first-hand look at a notoriously dangerous intersection when he visited Tumut last Thursday, where he also talked to locals to hear their concerns surrounding safety at the crash hot-spot.
Minister Toole joined Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr to inspect the Snowy Mountains Highway-Gocup Road intersection.
Calls for upgrades to the dangerous intersection have been occurring for years, however, a fatality involving a pregnant woman and her 10-year-old child in May has increased their pitch. The tragedy also prompted a campaign from Dr McGirr who started a petition calling on the state government to urgently provide additional safety measures for the intersection.
Minister Toole said the visit gave him the opportunity to speak with the local community and hear their feedback.
“It’s clear to me that the community has strong feelings about this intersection and, while appreciative of the current safety improvements, would like to see more done,” Minister Toole said.
Dr McGirr said the meeting was “very valuable”, and that in visiting, Minister Toole fulfilled a commitment he had previously made to do so.
“[Minister Toole] met with a group of people who raised concerns with me about the intersection, and they were able to brief him on their views and the feedback they’ve had from the community,” Dr McGirr said.
“There were quite passionate, well thought through arguments and I think he was quite impressed.”
Representing the local community was Tumut-resident Michael Preinbergs, Bernadette Walker, Ray “Dossie” Carr from the Local Traffic Committee, Tim Martin from the Tumut River Brewing Co and Tumut Fire and Rescue Captain Mick Ivill. Also present was Transport for NSW Regional Director for South West, Lindsay Tanner.
“I think he (Minister Toole) certainly got the message there’s a need to do more straight away and there’s also a need to get the thing fixed in the long term,” Dr McGirr said.
“The Minister was very genuine with trying to get to grips with the problem and I think it was a good opportunity for him to do that; he had a good look at it, walked around it and discussed it at some length.”
In May, Mr Toole requested that Transport for NSW and the Centre for Road Safety undertake a priority review of the intersection in response to community concerns. He said that this review is due to be completed “shortly” and “will provide recommendations for the best long-term solutions.”
In the meantime, the Minister said that $1.4 million of upgrades are being finalised as a short-term measure to “immediately improve road safety outcomes at this intersection.” These works commenced in late May and are scheduled to be complete in August, weather permitting.
“This involves installing stop signs, expanding existing vehicle-activated signage, installing transversal rumble strips and improving the intersection alignment and kerbing,” Minister Toole said.
Dr McGirr agrees that more needs to be done now whilst a long-term solution to the intersection is decided upon, planned and eventually completed.
“I feel that some more needs to be done now, including … a consideration of ripple strips and additional signage now, and also there needs to be a look at a medium to long term solution,” Dr McGirr said.
“We made the case that that probably needs to involve an alternative entry to the highway.”
This is an idea that has been proposed by Tumut-local Mr Preinbergs, and previously championed by Snowy Valleys Mayor James Hayes.
The proposal involves realigning Gocup Road from around 250 metres south of the Gilmore Creek near the RMS Depot, then extending it through the flat to reach a proposed roundabout near the Tumut Saleyards.
With the new roundabout in place diverting traffic from the current intersection, Mr Preinbergs would also recommend closing off the entrance to Gocup Road, making the current intersection a three-way intersection with Capper Street and the highway going straight through.
“We showed that to the Minister and we put the case for that, but that’s clearly something that’s going to take time to plan, but we’ve got to get that work started,” Dr McGirr said.
Mr Preinbergs said that one of locals’ biggest concerns with the intersection currently is the section of the Snowy Mountains Highway heading towards the caravan park, because the road drops away and is hidden by trees and shadows.
“There’s no line of sight for the motorists crossing the intersection from Capper Street to Gocup Road and vice versa, and for those trucks coming out of Gocup Road and turning right on to the Snowy Mountains Highway,” he said.
“Vehicles don’t come into a position where they can see that intersection until they’re within about 50 metres of it (when travelling the highway and approaching the intersection).
“According to the RMS tables, cars would take 60 metres to pull up in an emergency situation and heavier vehicles such as trucks would need 100 metres, and we do not have that side distance there at the moment.”
Mr Preinbergs said that whilst there would be “major cost” involved in rectifying this problem, and even though vehicles travelling that section of the road have right of way, something still needs to be done in the interest of safety.
Dr McGirr said that his petition calling for urgent additional safety measures at the intersection has well over 1000 signatures now, which is “certainly enough to get [it] put forward,” as 500 signatures are required to have the petition mentioned in the NSW Parliament. The next milestone would be 10,000 signatures, the number required for a parliamentary debate.
Whilst the meeting was a chance to discuss technical problems with the intersection, it also provided an opportunity for locals to share the emotional toll of accidents at the crash hotspot.
“There was also discussion of the effect of it on people, and we had someone there who was able to describe the impact of someone who had responded to the scene and I think that really had a big impact,” Dr McGirr said.
“It’s not just a question of statistics or the layout of the roads but when there is a crash there – like what happened, the tragedy – and people respond to that, that really affects the community and I think that passion was a really important part of the discussion we had.”
Mr Martin from the Brewery said that something that is often left out of the conversation is the impact that the accidents have on the drivers of the other vehicle who isn’t at fault.
“I think that sadly, that side of it was never going to be the focus until somebody died,” he said, acknowledging that although the recent fatality brought the issue into the spotlight, “it’s terrible and it should have never happened.”
“I think now we’re on the right track with pushing [the issue] really hard while there is this critical awareness of it,” Mr Martin said, hopeful that a permanent solution will be locked in.
The next step going forward is waiting on the results of the priority review into the intersection ordered by Minister Toole, which is expected to provide recommendations for the best long-term solutions.
“The Minster said that it would be up to his engineers to pick the most appropriate route and viable [route], so we’ll just have to wait and see what they come back with,” Mr Preinbergs said.
“I think they’re willing to get something done, it’s just got to go through the correct channels.”