Public pressure forces highway probe
By ALEX EASTON
COMMUNITY pressure has forced a parliamentary inquiry into the RTA's handling of planning for the Pacific Highway upgrade on the Northern Rivers.
The announcement of the inquiry follows a wave of community protests over upgrade plans for the highway between Tintenbar and Ewingsdale and between Woodburn and Ballina.
The Northern Star reported at the weekend that community anger was boiling over ? with threats from some community members to tear down a bridge during construction and to blockade the highway.
The announcement of the inquiry also follows a rare alliance between Ballina Nationals MP Don Page and Broken Head-based Greens MLC Ian Cohen, with both pushing for the upgrade to go under the parliamentary spotlight.
The inquiry, by the same Upper House committee that investigated the Government's decision to axe the Northern Rivers train, will focus on the planned upgrades between Tintenbar and Ewingsdale and between Ballina and Woodburn.
Despite their alliance, the two politicians come to the highway debate with different agendas.
Mr Cohen is arguing for the upgrade of the highway to be scaled back to cover only an improvement of the existing road and for B-doubles and interstate freight to be banned from the highway.
Mr Page is adamant the highway must be upgraded to full dual carriageway to reduce the number of serious accidents. However, he also argues that B-doubles should be banned from the highway until the upgrade is complete.
Under terms of reference drawn up by Mr Page and Mr Cohen, the inquiry will look at the extent of the proposed upgrade and its impact on traffic, farming land, the communities of Broadwater and Woodburn, and flooding in the Mid-Richmond area.
The inquiry will also examine the reasons for expanding the study area between Tintenbar and Ewingsdale, the impact on the highway of B-doubles and of the mixing of interstate trucks and local traffic.
It will also compare trucking on the Pacific and New England highways, and consider how an upgraded Pacific Highway would cope under an expected doubling of freight traffic by 2025.
The inquiry will also look at comments by Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Minister Craig Knowles, describing the highway as a dedicated regional road.
Mr Page said the inquiry would accept submissions from the community until August 19, with formal hearings to begin soon afterwards.
To make a submission to the inquiry, go to www.parliament.nsw.gov.au, click on the link for committees and then follow the link to General Purpose Standing Committee No.4 and then the link to the Pacific Highway Upgrades inquiry; or call Steven Reynolds on 92303543.