Fix highway safety problem now: Dinham

By TOBY WALKER

NEWS the Howard Government is prepared to use part of its budget surplus to fast track key upgrades of the Pacific Highway will be welcomed by Clarence Valley residents.

Yesterday, Roads Minister John Anderson confirmed on Sydney radio that some of the surplus would be used, although he did not specify how much.

The commitment comes amid talk of a tollway and the private sector being introduced on the highway to help complete a dual carriageway between Brisbane and Sydney within five years.

A central tenet of the government's pre-election $12.5 billion Auslink announcement, the dual carriageway's cost looked almost certain to blowout and remain incomplete until at least 2025.

But many in the Clarence Valley will be more concerned about the social costs of further delays in highway improvements rather than the dollar estimates being thrown around by the State and Federal governments.

The Clarence Valley Council's local emergency management officer, Ian Dinham, said the failure to significantly improve the highway between Coffs Harbour and Ballina since the 1989 Cowper bus crash ? which claimed 20 lives ? had been a 'triumph of bureaucracy'.

"Our emergency management people are the ones who have to attend these shocking accidents and pull bodies out of vehicles," Mr Dinham said.

"The traumatic effect that has on emergency personnel is further reason to address the (safe- ty) problem.

"It's more than a tragedy because the people that are dying on the highway are healthy Australians.

"There just seems to be no end to it and the thing is the Cowper bus crash could happen again any night of the week."

Mr Dinham's comments came the same day the former NSW State Coroner Kevin Waller, a tireless campaigner for the dual carriageway, called for more to be done to reduce the highway toll.

A report released by the National Roads and Motoring Association last August estimated that over the past 10 years the Pacific Highway has averaged approximately 1,000 crashes a year, or almost three a day.



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