Esperance Stonehenge owners fight for change

A busy tourism season and a series of near misses have reignited a long-running debate over traffic management at Merivale – a spot local business owners have labelled a ‘death trap’.

In late January, Stonehenge owners Kim and Jillian Beale pleaded with council to get serious about traffic issues at Merivale Road before a fatality occurred, stating that motorists were ignoring the renewed signage.

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Mr Beale said he witnessed motorists performing U-turns on the top of the hill and parking ahead of passing trucks and trailers on a daily basis.

Although he had raised the issue several times over the last seven years, Mr Beale said he got serious about it following a busy 2017/2018 school holiday season – attending three consecutive council meetings in February, March and April.

Shire employees assessed the site in 2018, installing renewed signage on either side of the hill.

Mr and Mrs Beale said motorists on the road, which sees an average of 731 vehicles both ways daily, were not taking notice.

“Something has to be done, it has to be taken seriously because it’s just a deathtrap,” Mr Beale said.

“The signs are better, there is no doubt about that, but people don’t take any notice of them.

“Daily we see people doing the wrong thing, turning around on the top of the road – it is a really dangerous situation.

“It’s a main road going out to the national park and, with tourism growing, we want the shire to really take a good look at this.”

A Road Safety Audit of the site, paid for by the Beale’s, was undertaken in 2011 and found a reduction of the crest could increase the sight distance from the existing access point.

“Upgrading of the section of Merivale Road through the vertical curve would benefit the Shire of Esperance by way of removing an existing potential Black Spot from their road network and offer motorists a safer road,” the report stated.

Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Mr Beale said he would push for the hilltop to be reduced by two to three metres – a move Shire of Esperance chief executive officer Matthew Scott said was cost prohibitive.

“This is an expensive proposal, as it would require major earthworks and blasting of the granite hill to lower it,” Mr Scott said.

“The proposal is cost prohibitive and funding options are limited due to the cost of the proposal.

“The original development approval for “Stonehenge” identified the need to address the potential risk of tourists stopping in the area and included a number of measures to address this risk.

“A Road Safety Audit has been completed by the Beale’s as part of their Development Approval conditions with the recommendations to be implemented by the Beale’s as part of their development.

“The findings had a number of recommendations to improve road safety including improving the sight distance of the crest.

“The cause of the vehicles stopping illegally on this section of road is the attraction on the Beale’s property.

“Most recently the shire has worked with Mr and Mrs Beale over the past 12 months to improve the signage at the location.

“The purpose of the signage is to make drivers more aware of the potential hazards in the area.”

Mr Scott said that if, after a trial period, it was determined the signs were not providing an adequate solution, a screen option would be more appropriate and would be significantly less than the cost of lowering the crest – providing a more cost effective solution for the community.

Mr Beale said he showed great concern for the issue back in 2010, prior to the development of Stonehenge, but was assured that the road was the shire’s responsibility.

Mrs Beale said that their primary concern was that the issue was on a stretch of road connecting motorists to the region’s most beloved tourist attractions.

“If it’s not in this budget, stick it in the next budget and let’s do something with the road,” she said.

“After the last major incident, we decided we had to put the accelerator on this issue and make sure that something positive starts to happen.

“We want every tourist on Merivale Road to feel safe and we want to know that they’re safe.

“We can’t change people’s driving behaviours, but it will certainly give us peace of mind to know that that road is fixed.”