Ballina Shire Council mayor Phillip Silver.
Ballina Shire Council mayor Phillip Silver. File

Mayors join forces to cut carnage

THE thought that about 200 people could die in accidents on the Pacific Highway before scheduled upgrades are completed has prompted four North Coast mayors to take action.

In a bid to curtail the carnage on the 212km section of highway between Ballina and Coffs Harbour, that claims an average of 20 lives a year, Richmond Valley mayor Col Sullivan, Ballina mayor Phillip Silver, Clarence Valley mayor Richie Williamson and Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades have invited NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell to tour the deadly stretch of highway.

Cr Sullivan said it was the first time since he had been in office that a group of mayors had banded together to get something done.

“It just seemed logical for all the councils to act together,” he said.

“It would be great if we could get them to come up and have a look at the highway.”

Cr Williamson said the impetus for their action was the news in December that the section of highway running through their local government areas was placed last on the priority list of upgrades for the highway.

“Everyone wants to be first, but that can’t be the case,” Cr Williamson said.

“We certainly think the highway between Coffs Harbour and Ballina is deadly.”

The statistics support the mayors’ fears.

NRMA audit reports from 2003 and 2007 show the stretch between Ballina and Coffs Harbour comprises almost a third of the highway distance from Hexham to the Queensland border.

Almost 90 per cent of this distance is two lanes. Despite having the lowest traffic rate of any of the highway, a third of the highway deaths have occurred here.

“This section of the highway is a well-known fatigue zone, being four to six hours from Brisbane and Sydney and at night has terrifying levels of B-double truck use,” a signed letter from all four mayors, which was faxed to the politicians yesterday, said.

“Every year this section of highway is not upgraded, an average of another 20 people will lose their lives – many of them local citizens of our council areas.

“This would mean we would lose another 200 lives and have many hundreds of other lives altered for ever by the time we could expect any upgrade of this section of highway to be completed by 2020.”

Cr Silver said while the Federal and State governments had done work on other sections of the highway, ‘this section appears to have fallen under the radar’.

“It is right in the middle of the fatigue zone and needs upgrading,” he said.

Cr Williamson said the timing of the invitation, about 12 months out from an election, could well spur the politicians into action.

The Northern Star, Daily Examiner and Coffs Coast Advocate are all backing the campaign by the mayors to get our highway fixed.

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