Deputy Prime Minister and Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Warren Truss,has been visiting the New South Wales North Coast, talking four lane highway. The creation of a four lane divided highway between Hexham (just north of Newcastle) and Brisbane was promised in the wake of two horrific truck and bus crashes back in 1989.
The NSW Transport Minister, at the time, was Bruce Baird, now the Chairman of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and father of the current Premier of NSW, Mike Baird. The deaths of 56 people in two incidents in the run up to Christmas 1989 had focussed the minds of the Australian public on safety concerns on our major highways and the regulation of trucks and buses.
Baird, famously, flew to Clybucca in a helicopter and started making policy by the side of the highway in front of TV cameras. Tachographs were to be brought in and speeds limited. In actual fact, it was the results of the inquest into the deaths in early 1990 which set the agenda, the dualling of the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane.
Governments , both Federal and State, came out and declared it was a priority to have a divided four lane Pacific Highway. Now, the latest pronouncements from the authorities tell us the project’s goal will be achieved in 2020, just thirty years after it was promised.
Truss’ visit to Coffs Harbour this week was not about delivering on that promise. The last pieces of the extremely complex and slow moving jigsaw, which is the new, safer, Pacific Highway are slowly coming into place. Current projects being built will fill in all the gaps bar one. The only remaining section, from Woolgoolga to Ballina (by-passing Grafton) is about to commence construction.
When this is finished, in five years time, the governments of NSW and Australia will be able to proclaim the delivery of the promise made in 1990.
However, one section of the Pacific will, technically, be a divided four lane highway. It will also be a road straight through the bustling heart of Coffs Harbour with plenty of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to compromise safety. This is the reason Truss was in Coffs Harbour this week, ostensibly to get some traction on the building of a by-pass around the town.
“I met with Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker to discuss potential projects in the region for consideration for future construction programmes,” said Truss said. “The Australian Government will consider projects on their merits and in consideration with the New South Wales Government, evaluation from Infrastructure Australia.
“In the 2015–16 Budget the New South Wales Government committed $200 million towards the project, subject to a business case being prepared and finalised. The outcome of this business case would inform the Australian Government’s position.”
The fine print is in Truss’ last sentence.
“In the interim, the Australian Government is continuing its commitment to deliver a fully duplicated Pacific Highway to the Queensland border by the end of the decade.”