This week has seen our dependable Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss, confirm the Australian and NSW Governments’ duplication of the Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border. It is on track to be completed by the end of this decade.
By 2020? Well its about time too! The ongoing underinvestment in our infrastructure is demonstrated by the length of time dualling the Pacific has taken. Is thirty years enough time to get the job done?
In the aftermath of the horrific crashes at Grafton and Kempsey in late 1989 the nation was in shock. 21 people had been killed in the head on crash between a truck and coach at Grafton and then a few weeks later 35 were killed when two coaches crashed head on. These were a damning inditement of the quality of the highway and the transport industry.
The inquest into the Grafton events began on January 29 1990 with, Coroner, Kevin Waller, presiding. This was followed by a second inquest and then a hearing looking into road safety issues in Australia. At its conclusion, Waller called for a reduction in the truck speed limit to 90 km/h and a two cents a litre fuel levy to pay for the improvement of the Pacific Highway into a four lane highway.
The trucking industry would find a 90 km/h limit a little hard to swallow, but increased speed monitoring and control means average truck speeds are lower now than they were in the late eighties.
A fuel levy would also be hard to swallow and impact on the sustainability of many operators at the time. However, if such a fund had been created, we would not have had to wait the full thirty years for the four lane highway. That’s if we get in the next five years, work is ongoing on many stretches of the road, but not all of the routes are locked in.
How many lives would have been saved and how much would productivity have been improved if government had moved with the kind of urgency demanded at the time of the carnage?
Do we really want to hear politicians, of all parties, congratulating themselves, while bagging the other parties, on delivering something which was needed thirty years ago, and never delivered?