The highway site north of Leongatha has been the location of many fatalities.
By Ash’lee Charlton
A TRAGIC accident which claimed the life of a Mirboo North teenager and left her sister fighting for her life has again prompted desperate pleas from the community for improvements to the notorious Crightons Hill.
Last Monday at around 5pm, the sisters were involved in the fatal collision on the Strzelecki Highway at Leongatha North.
According to police their Holden sedan was travelling north along the highway when it is believed to have crossed onto the other side of the road, colliding with an oncoming four wheel drive.
The teenager died at the scene, while her sister, aged in her 20s, was airlifted to hospital in a critical condition. She remains in hospital where she continues to recover.
It is the second fatality to occur on the corners this year, after an Outtrim man lost his life in an accident in February.
A 25 year-old woman also lost her life on the same corners in 2011 when her car left the road before hitting a concrete power pole.
With the community again left devastated by the loss of another life, VicRoads, with the support of the South Gippsland Shire Council, is finally set to take action.
VicRoads last week pledged to work with police to investigate the stretch of road, while the council has vowed to fully support a push for funding to ensure improvements to the road.
Leongatha North’s McAlpine family, Susan and Brian and their son David, have witnessed the ongoing devastation from their nearby property during the past 16 years.
As frequent users of the stretch of road they are constantly fearful when travelling through the corners, and are among those appealing for changes.
“We have been here 16 years and seen some really horrific accidents, horrific carnage,” Susan said.
“One of the worst parts about living here is that the helicopter comes in over the house and it is just absolutely gut-wrenching when you hear it.”
For Susan, the corners are a continual concern, but have been heightened since son David got his learners permit.
“It constantly plays on my mind,” she said.
“David stated driving 12 months ago and I have drilled it into him since he was little that these corners are so dangerous.
“I am always really cautious and find I sit on 70km/h or even 60km/h. I get tooted, I get abused and I am sick of it.”
The family say they witness near misses on a weekly basis; many times it is a result of speed and loss of control of other driver’s vehicles, inattention by drivers on mobile phones and dealing with the dangerous surface when the road is wet.
“Driving along this stretch of road we hold our breaths, never quite knowing what will come around the next corner,” Susan said.
“Last week I was on my way to pick David up from school at about 3.15pm and I got to the exact same corner where the accident had happened the night before.”
There were already flowers there and I passed a young girl and she was on her phone.
“I felt absolutely sick to my stomach.”
Following last Monday’s tragic accident the family drafted a number of suggestions for improvements to the road, which they have sent to Minister for Regional and Rural Development Peter Ryan.
Among their suggestions are large signs, positioned to the north and south bound corners at 100m and 200m intervals along with ‘Winding Road’ and ‘Reduce Speed Now’ signs.
“The speed limit needs to be a 70km/h restriction, not recommended speed,” Susan said.
“Road drainage needs regular maintenance to prevent table drains spilling water over the road which currently creates great dangers to drivers.
“Even if it is $1000 worth of signs, it might just save one life.”
Working on it
A team of VicRoads road safety experts are working with police in investigating the cause of last week’s accident.
VicRoads regional director Scott Lawrence said the teams will look in detail at the circumstances surrounding the crash including any likely contributing factors.
“At VicRoads we are always saddened by the loss of lives on our roads and the loss of two young people recently has been particularly tragic,” he said.
“Once the cause of the crash is determined, we can look at what further road safety improvements could be incorporated along this section of road to reduce the risk of this type of crash reoccurring.”
Mr Lawrence said VicRoads will be carrying out a $3.8 million road safety project between Leongatha and Berrys Creek to tackle run-off road type crashes, where drivers stray out of their lane and hit hazardous roadside objects.
“As part of this project, safety barriers and additional warning signs will be installed at Crightons Hill,” he said.
“Any plan for realignment of the highway in this area, regardless of its path, would require significant land acquisition and cost.”
Throwing their support behind VicRoads is the South Gippsland Shire Council with Acting Mayor Jeanette Harding stating council will fully back the improvements to the corners.
Cr Harding also recently became president of the South East Australian Transport Strategy (SEATS) which provides highly coordinated and influential advocacy for the development of transport infrastructure in the South East Australian region.
“We will fully support VicRoads because South Gippsland is suffering. It is absolutely horrendous what is happening,” she said.
“How many more people have to be killed before something is done?”
Cr Harding said along with council support, SEATS has already thrown its support behind fixing the corners.
“Crightons Hill is now the number one priority project for SEATS. We have to give VicRoads our total support to ensure they can get the funding to do something to change the road,” she said.