Pacific Highway fuels deadly concern

THE infamy of the Pacific Highway as a bitumen mortuary continues to take its toll on those who lost loved ones on the road in 2008.

Even during Operation Safe Arrival, a police road safety campaign conducted over the holiday period, the highway was the scene of three of the nine road fatalities across NSW.

As highly visible police road patrols struggled to keep the State’s fatalities below a psychological barrier of 400 for 2008, NSW road deaths hit 391 by Christmas Day, including the death of a Mullumbimby cyclist.

The good news was that Christmas Day in NSW stayed fatality-free. As the year drew to a close, the NSW annual road toll was 395, which was 40 fewer than 2007, and the first time the toll had fallen below 400 since 1944.

For 20 years Ballina MP Don Page has fought for the national highway to become a dual carriageway linking Sydney with Queensland.

With just 40 per cent of the highway between Hexham and the border completed, Mr Page said this was both ‘scandalous and immoral’ because of the continuing fatalities.

 His anger was fuelled by the State Government with a mini-budget that slashed $360 million in RTA funds – 90 per cent of that earmarked for Pacific Highway upgrade work.

Mr Page said the highway had more than 50 deaths last year. And with the Bureau of Transport Economics forecasting freight tonnage carried by semi-trailers along the route to rapidly rise by billions of tonnes, it was now more imperative the work was done without further delays.

“The number of lives that have been lost on the Pacific Highway should make it the number one priority for funding,” he said.

Operation Safe Arrival began in NSW at midnight on Thursday, December 18, and ended at midnight last night.

During the operation police conducted nearly 450,000 breath tests and on one day alone issued 2087 traffic infringements.

Traffic Services Commander, Chief Superintendent John Hartley, said although serious crashes and injuries were down, the worst areas of NSW were the Mid-North Coast and the North Coast.

Northern Rivers police said they had been happy with the behaviour of most motorists and traffic congestion was moderate.

The usual choke point at the intersection of the Pacific Highway and River Street in Ballina was less intense this year, helped by the recent installation of traffic lights.

Chief Superintendent Hartley appealed to motorists returning from their holidays to be patient on the road.

“Over the next few days, roads across the State are expected to become more congested as holidaymakers return from their Christmas and New Year holidays,” he said.

“I appeal to drivers to remain calm and patient if they are delayed in traffic.

“Don’t try to make up for lost time by speeding or driving erratically.

“If you’ve been partying for the last few days, make sure you’re not affected by alcohol. If so make other travel arrangements.”

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