Lives at risk at Leithfield’s highway junction

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Underpass wanted . . . Pupils from Leithfield School's Pukeko class with principal, Rob Cavanagh, second from left, and other teachers, during a roadside protest at Pukeko Junction last week. PHOTO: SHELLEY TOPP

By SHELLEY TOPP

Lives are being put at risk crossing State Highway 1 at Pukeko Junction to get to school, Leithfield pupils say .

Pupils from the school’s Year 6, Pukeko class, highlighted the danger at the busy SH1 intersection last Wednesday.

Their protest called for community support for an underpass to be built at the busy intersection.

The class has also written to NZ Transport Agency chief executive Nicole Rosie, Hurunui District Council Mayor Marie Black, and the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins, alerting them to the problem and asking for their support.

The pupils say the highway is too busy for children to cross safely, particularly in the morning before school, after school, and the Friday before long weekends.

“We would like an underpass or something similar to safely cross the busy main highway independently without support from our parents.”

Research done by the pupils and their teacher, Dale Thomson, shows constructing an underpass would cost $500,000.

The students wanted to start fundraising for the underpass and thought about having a baking day, selling raffles and having a mufti-day.

“But it was too hard for our little community to come up with this amount of money,” they say.

School principal Rob Cavanagh says the Pukeko Junction intersection is one of North Canterbury’s busiest.

“It is a dangerous highway to cross for children and adults.”

Mr Cavanagh attended last week’s roadside protest, which was held outside peak-hour traffic time, from 1.45pm to 2.30pm, and at one point he counted 50 vehicles in under five minutes.

Pukeko Junction Wine Shop and Gallery owner Sheryll Bowen says many accidents have occurred at the intersection and there are regular near misses.

“There were three accidents in five weeks once,” she says.

“In one of the accidents a van burst into flames. There are so many heavy vehicles on that road, buses, freight trucks, logging trucks and stock trucks, all going 100km an hour.

“It is a nightmare.”

The intersection has been a dangerous area to cross for many years but the huge increase in traffic flow in the last decade, due to North Canterbury’s high growth, has intensified the problem.

Six years ago senior constable Ken Terry held a workshop at the school offering safety tips for the children on how to cross SH1 safely.

The children were also given safety vests and flags at the safety workshop to make them more visible when crossing the intersection.

However, since then nothing has been done to improve the safety of the intersection.

Hurunui District Mayor Marie Black says the pupil’s letter has been included in the road safety agenda for its meeting on November 23.

“The school children have been invited, and accepted the invitation, to come along to that meeting to present their case on the dangers of crossing the State Highway.”