Upgrade still a long way off

Sixteen years after State Coroner Kevin Waller called for the Pacific Highway to be fully upgraded, almost two thirds of the task has yet to be completed, according to an audit conducted by NRMA Motoring and Services.

Mr Waller held the inquests after Australias worst-ever road crashes in 1989 after more than 50 people died when two buses struck head-on near Kempsey and another bus was hit by a truck North of Grafton.

A dual carriageway was the main recommendation from the inquest.

While both the federal and state government have upped their spending on the highway, 40 per cent of the road is still only single carriageway without safe overtaking opportunities.

The audit examined the 680km stretch of highway between Hexham, on the outskirts of Newcastle, to the Queensland border. It found that the section between Ballina and Brunswick Heads rated alarmingly high in crashes, fatalities and casualty rates with 15 people dying over the past three years compared with 120 over the entire 680 km stretch. The audit identified 191 black lengths along this section of highway, with the top five in the North Coast region.

The NRMA audit also found that 15 per cent of crashes involved heavy vehicles and that the number of B-Doubles had increased by 400 per cent, partly due to trucks now using upgraded sections of the Pacific Highway instead of the New England Highway.

The audit also revealed that almost all the towns along the highway registered daily traffic volumes in excess of 10,000 vehicles.

NRMAs Motoring & Services director, Wendy Machin said it was not good enough.

This is one of Australias most critical roads and it is incomprehensible that so much of it is still not up to an acceptable standard, she said. Over the last three years only two per cent of the highway has been upgraded to four-lane divided carriageway.

Ballina Mayor Phil Silver applauded the NRMA audit and said it urgently required the upgrade more credibility in a non-political way.

I think what this audit reveals is that the government is moving too slowly, said Cr Silver. And the local community is fed up. The project needs a massive investment of funding and a real effort from the government.

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