WILL YOU FIX IT NOW MINISTER?
By NERIDA BLOK
On the eve of the Pacific Highway inquiry at Ballina, a petrol tanker has rolled at the bottom of the infamous Tintenbar Hill, spilling thousands of litres of fuel and blocking the highway.
A LADEN petrol tanker rolled and blocked the Pacific Highway yesterday as Ballina prepared to host tomorrow's parliamentary inquiry into the highway.
The petrol tanker was travelling south on the highway when it rolled about 9.30am at the bottom of Tintenbar Hill, Cumbalum, blocking traffic in both directions.
Last night police said they expected the highway to remain closed until 5am today.
The 23-year-old male driver escaped unhurt but truck drivers and Ballina bypass president Alan Brown said the crash showed the urgent need for the Ballina Bypass.
But the State and Federal governments yesterday declined to say when work would start on the bypass, which has already been approved.
Emergency service personnel scrambled to contain 32,000 litres of fuel from spilling into nearby waterways.
It is the fourth accident to occur on that section of the highway this year, two of which involved fatalities.
Inspector Anne Langford from Lismore police said the cause of the crash was not known.
The driver's name had not been released.
A local diversion was made for north and southbound travellers in light vehicles and semi-trailers via Ross Lane.
But for B-double drivers like Lou Spruyt, of Rutherglen, it was a game of sit and wait.
"Not much you can do about it," said Mr Spruyt, who was on his way from Yatala to Newcastle to deliver a load of concrete.
Mr Spruyt said the government needed to build a better road.
"It's not the truck driver or the truck's fault, it's the road." he said. "We need a dual carriageway from Brisbane to Sydney but it's taking too long. For the volume of traffic this section takes, the statistics have proven it can't handle it."
The stretch of road the accident occurred on is a known danger area.
As far back as 10 years ago police were describing the area as a death trap and warning it needed to be made safer.
Ballina Bypass Action Group president and Ballina Shire councillor Alan Brown said the accident demonstrated the need to fast-track the Ballina bypass.
"It is yet another example of the necessity to get the Ballina bypass completed," he said.
"That was a section of the Ballina bypass which is planned to be upgraded. I think it's fitting that this is occurring at the time a parliamentary inquiry is being conducted."
However, a spokesperson for NSW Roads Minister Joe Tripo- di would make no commitment on when work on the Ballina bypass would begin, saying only that the Pacific Highway upgrade was 'underway'.
"The Pacific Highway upgrade program, a joint Federal and State program, is underway with the latest announcement of the route options," he said. "They have been developed following community consultation."
A spokesperson for the Federal Roads Minister Jim Lloyd said they hoped to get the highway upgraded by 2016.