Keziah Southwell, 22 yrs of Alstonville behind her the spot on the Pacific Highway where she was involved in a frightening accident in May 2007.
Keziah Southwell, 22 yrs of Alstonville behind her the spot on the Pacific Highway where she was involved in a frightening accident in May 2007. Jacklyn Wagner

NSW Government chips in extra $166m for highway

KEZIAH Southwell was no more than a split second away from death when the car she was driving and a pan-tech truck collided at 100km/h on the Pacific Highway at Bangalow.

Ms Southwell and her husband Anthony were lucky - they lived to tell the tale.

But countless others aren't as fortunate, which is why the Alstonville woman says the State Government's announcement that it will be boosting highway upgrade funding by $166 million is long overdue.

It has been revealed the funding boost will be included in next Tuesday's State Budget, with the aim of upgrading the entire length of highway from Hexham, near Newcastle, to the Queensland border to dual carriageway by 2016.

The extra money brings the highway fund to $613 million for the next financial year, which includes $558 million to continue construction and planning work, with the remainder to be spent on maintenance.

Ms Southwell described the highway as 'terrible' and said she hoped the upgrades would prevent further accidents.

She said she would never forget the day of her own accident, in May last year.

"I drove up under the Bangalow overpass to find a truckie pulling out of Bangalow to do a U-turn on the highway," she said.

"Trying to avoid the collision, I swerved to the right.

"Going at 100km/h, we hit the front right-hand side of the truck. A split second sooner and we would have gone under the tray and to certain death."

Ms Southwell still finds it tough driving on the highway, especially when she passes trucks.

"It was a horrific ordeal which has left many emotional and physical scars," she said. "We suffered injuries to our chests and heads, and severe whiplash. But the mental trauma has been a lot worse."

According to the NRMA, in the past three years more than 120 people have lost their lives and more than 1770 people were injured on the Pacific Highway.

Casino man Joe Maloney knows how devastating it can be, having lost his son to a car accident on the Pacific Highway near Ballina in 2003.

"They were talking about this 20 years ago, that's what I find a bit hard to take," Mr Maloney said.

"I know it's a massive job, but the sooner they do it, the better."

Ernie Bennett, chairman of the Pacific Highway Taskforce, was 'very happy' with the extra funding, but said there was still a degree of uncertainty about the project.

"The Commonwealth has committed $2.45 billion to the project from 2009 to 2014, but we still need to know what the State is prepared to commit for that period," he said.

Shadow State Minister for Road Safety Andrew Fraser said the funding announcement was just a rehash of last year's State Budget.

"I sincerely hope this funding is an increase in real terms," he said.

"It's not new money and we are calling on the Iemma government to make a real commitment and match the Federal $2.4 billion upgrade.

The Northern Star was yesterday unable to confirm whether the State Government would match the Federal funding for 2009-2014.

However, State Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal said the additional funding would allow the Government to accelerate and increase the number of projects on the Pacific Highway, to move it towards a dual carriageway for its entire 660km length.

More than 91km of the highway is under construction, and 263km has already been upgraded to double-lane, divided road. It is expected that 50 per cent of the highway will be upgraded by the end of this year.

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