Fight for Pacific Highway upgrade

CAMPAIGNS by local media for action to improve the horror stretch of the Pacific Highway between Coffs Harbour and Ballina have been repeatedly ignored by NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, but they have caught the attention of TV program 60 Minutes.

Now Channel Nine's flagship current affairs program is joining the fight, calling a public meeting at the Clarence Valley Council Chambers in Grafton on August 11 for part of a story producers hope to air on October 21, the 21st anniversary of the tragic Cowper bus crash that claimed 20 lives.

60 Minutes producer Julia Timms said a story in The Northern Star's sister paper, The Daily Examiner, about Grafton ambulance officer Wade Walker, who quit his job after attending one too many fatal accidents on the highway, highlighted what a serious issue the state of the road was.

“In 1989, Australia experienced one of its worst bus crashes – claiming 20 lives at Cowper,” she said.

“Almost 21 years on and it's clear the accident and death toll on the Pacific Highway is still too high.”

Keen to hear the stories of as many people as possible whose lives have been affected by tragedy on the highway, 60 Minutes has issued an open invitation for anyone to attend the meeting, which starts at 6pm.

“60 Minutes wants to debate just why this road is taking so long to fully upgrade and highlight how many people are being needlessly killed or injured,” Ms Timms said.

“We would love to hear from families who have lost loved ones, the emergency services, the trucking industry and, of course, those that live along it and experience it every day.”

Cr Ian Dinham said he had spent 20 years calling for the highway to be upgraded and hoped someone would now take notice.

“I sincerely hope that our politicians and bureaucrats finally listen to this upcoming 60 Minutes program,” he said.

While hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent upgrading sections of the highway, Cr Dinham said the priority should be to save lives.

“It is now costing between $330 million and $360 million to construct a tunnel under Sextons Hill at Tweed Heads, purely so trucks and other traffic can avoid one single set of traffic lights on the hill,” he said.

“It is just one of many examples of how the priorities have gone wrong as people continue to die between Coffs Harbour and Ballina.”

“The only work being done on this deadly 200km section is a measly 7km at Glenugie and the Ballina bypass.”

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