Westleigh junction campaign puts pressure on the council
NEARLY two thousand people have joined road safety campaigners, police and senior county, district and parish councillors in calling for road improvements at a notorious A39 accident blackspot. An Internet campaign was launched only hours after the death
NEARLY two thousand people have joined road safety campaigners, police and senior county, district and parish councillors in calling for road improvements at a notorious A39 accident blackspot.
An Internet campaign was launched only hours after the death of 84-year-old John Allison, who was killed in a two-car collision at the Westleigh Junction near the Torridge bridge on Wednesday afternoon.
Many who have joined the "Make Instow junction on the link road a roundabout NOW!!!" group on social networking website Facebook have spoken about their dislike for the junction, while others say they avoid it for fear of being involved in an accident themselves.
The Westleigh Junction - where traffic attempts to cross the busy A39 in both directions - has long been likened to "Russian roulette" for motorists due to the confusion over right of way priority it causes for some drivers.
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Historically, there has been one previous death at the junction. Since a motorcyclist died 15 years ago, changes were made, including the introduction of segregated lanes, a 40 miles-per-hour limit, interactive warning signs and more bollards.
But many have - and continue - to maintain - that more drastic measures should be implemented. Devon County Councillor Rodney Cann is among those who have been campaigning for improvements at the site for many years. Speaking out in 2006 after the Highways Authority review labelled the junction a "Cluster Site" due to the number of collisions, Cllr Cann said the of the figures: "They confirm what we have always known - this is a very dangerous junction.
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"The real answer is a roundabout; the County has tweaked it with minor improvements over the past couple of years, but it's still not good enough and we must have action".
Three years later, a further 15 collisions, including one serious injury, were recorded at the junction between January 2006 and December 2008 and Cllr Cann has continued to press for improvements. In July, he invited new Devon County Council leader John Hart and council cabinet members Stuart Hughes and Stuart Barker to see the problems at the junction for themselves.
Although a number of drivers slowed down to let the councillors know their views and what they felt should be done, Cllr Hughes, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation, said the council would continue to monitor the effectiveness of electronic variable message signs (VMS) installed in 2008.
He said at the time: "Our officers will continue to monitor this location to see if further improvements are necessary."
Other campaigners have also spoken out about the junction's safety in the light of Wednesday's tragedy. North Devon and Fremington parish councillor John Gill said he had canvassed opinion on the junction during a pre-election survey he carried out among Instow and Westleigh residents in May this year.
"Of the 50 or so people who responded to the survey, three quarters said there should be a roundabout at that junction," said Cllr Gill.
"I was a regular user of the junction myself and it used to frighten the life out of me," he added.
Duncan Withall, a tutor with RoSPA advanced driving group, said that 25 years ago he was chairman of the Bideford Chamber of Commerce transport group.
He told the Gazette: "We saw a blueprint for that section of road and the chamber of commerce said then that the layout was wrong and was less than adequate for the volume of traffic that would be using it.
"The layout has been 'tweaked' since, but it was said that to provide a roundabout would cost �1million. Yet Government figures estimated the cost of a fatal accident at �3m and there have been two at this spot."
Also speaking to the Gazette on Monday, Devon and Cornwall Police North Devon and Torridge Road Casualty Reduction Officer, PC Nick Porter, said that safety had to be improved at the junction.
"The bottom line is that something has to be done," he said.
"I personally accept that the junction is confusing and even among colleagues, I have experienced differing views as to who has right of way.
"Even competent and confident drivers can find themselves in a confusing situation as there is some doubt as to who has right of way."
PC Porter, who was set to attend a multi-agency meeting about the junction being held at the Civic Centre in Barnstaple as the Gazette went to press yesterday (Tuesday), added: "After canvassing the views of colleagues, the roundabout appears to be the favoured option.
"There is also a suggestion to make the junction traffic light controlled or to remove the right turn off the road from Barnstaple but funding is the bottom line."
Cllr Cann added: "With future developments planned in the area, Devon County Council should be grasping the nettle.
"The message to the council is simple: Yes, �1m for a roundabout is expensive but not that much compared to the cost of a life; it would be money well spent.
"I will not let this matter rest."
"I understand there is �30,000 106 development money from the soon-to-be-built East-the-Water Tesco and I consider this should be put towards the scheme.