Pacific Highway still not upgraded

IT WAS 20 years ago today that Australia woke to the full horror of the Kempsey bus crash.

Thirty-five people died and 41 were injured when two full tourist coaches collided head-on on the Pacific Highway at Clybucca Flat, just north of Kempsey, at 3.30am.

The carnage came just two months after Australia’s then worst road accident – the Cowper bus crash north of Grafton – claimed 21 lives and injured 22.

The coroner inquiring into the Kempsey crash found that the driver of the south-bound McCafferty’s coach fell asleep at the wheel and failed to negotiate a left-hand bend. It crossed the centre line and collided with an oncoming TransCity coach.

For 13 hours emergency workers worked tirelessly to free the trapped survivors.

Fleets of ambulances and helicopters carried the injured to hospitals nearby and as far away as Sydney.

Both accidents triggered coronial inquests that initiated radical and unprecedented reforms to the heavy transport industry, though the coroner’s first and foremost recommendation in both inquests – to upgrade Australia’s busiest highway to a dual carriageway – has still not been completed.

While successive governments continue to spin their failed promises and missed deadlines into positive infrastructure stories, the fact remains that less than half of the highway between Hexham and the Queensland border is finished.

Former NSW CoronerKevin Waller, who conducted both inquiries, told The Northern Star in October he was bitterly disappointed successive governments had ignored his recommendations and continued to ‘pussyfoot around squabbling over who should pay for what’.

While the Federal Government has currently committed $3.1 billion to the project, the NSW Government continues to attract criticism for only putting in $500 million.

The NRMA estimates the project will require $6.7 billion to complete.

NSW Nationals Leader and shadow roads minister Andrew Stoner said it defied belief that two decades on, the same stretch of road at Clybucca remained undivided.

“The State Labor Government broke its promise to upgrade the entire road to dual carriageway by 2006 (and) we are still seeing the tragic consequences,” he said.

A memorial ceremony was held at Clybucca on Sunday.

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