Save the coast? Summerland Way upgrade worth investigating

THERE must be a better way than a Pacific Highway upgrade that is dividing local communities and that could forever scar the Clarence and Richmond valleys' world-class coastal environment.

Is the solution staring us in the face?

Is it an upgraded Summerland Way to dual carriageway?

The Daily Examiner today launches a regional community campaign for this alternative inland route to be added to the list of highway options and investigated dispassionately.

On behalf of a large segment of our readership, we respectfully call on the Premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, to think laterally and give the Summerland Way the consideration it deserves.

We respectfully ask that NSW Roads Minister Joe Tripodi extend public consultation beyond November 18 so that a proper assessment can be made of its merits and/or its shortcomings.

And we invite Mr Iemma and Mr Tripodi, or their nominated representatives, to attend community forums in Maclean and Grafton, both hosted by The Examiner, on Thursday, November 24. Venues and times to be advised.

State Nationals Member for Ballina and Shadow Minister for the North Coast Don Page, who will speak at both forums, was among the first to recognise that mixing heavy freight transports like B-doubles with increased volumes of commuter traffic was not only flawed, but lethal.

It actually was Lismore trucking magnate Reg Mills, of Mills Transport, who suggested the Summerland Way as a possible solution during a conversation with Mr Page.

Together with fellow Nationals, Lismore MP Thomas George and Clarence MP Steve Cansdell, Mr Page then pulled out the relevant maps and devised a plan that could save the Government a lot of voter angst, millions in resumption and compensation payouts, and crucially, get a highway built years ahead of schedule, regardless of whether Labor or the Coalition was in power.

It is a plan that has no hope of success without some bipartisan goodwill and a few months' grace from Mr Iemma, who has reversed some unpopular and rushed policies of his predecessor, and from Mr Tripodi.

Roughly staked out, 'The Page Plan' would follow a Pacific Highway upgrade from Wells Crossing to a possible interchange point south of Ulmarra (the RTA's Orange Option A), cross the Clarence River over a new bridge, cut through State Forest to the Summerland Way and then skirt Casino, Lismore and Bangalow before re-linking with the Pacific Highway. Two thirds of this route already is State-owned Crown land, so it represents the path of least resistance when compared with the densely settled coastal corridor.

Its major benefits are that life would return to normal for hundreds of private homes and on some of the North Coast's most productive farmland. Rare or endangered species like emu colonies in the same coastal corridor also would be protected for generations to come.

Mr Page argues that his plan would be an economic boon to Casino and Lismore. The Examiner reiterates its long-standing editorial line that if the river crossing was made near Clarenza, Grafton, already in a mini economic boom, would flourish. Congestion on the bendy old bridge also would be alleviated.

Mr Page cautions that an upgraded Summerland Way merely provides breathing space before the onslaught of baby boomer sea-changers really takes hold over the next two decades.

The Pacific Highway over time still would have to be maintained as 'Class A' highway as the lure of coastal towns always will remain strong. Bypasses still would have to be built for Ballina and Alstonville.

'The Page Plan' may be a simple one requiring refinement, but we are of the view that it is worthy of RTA or independent assessment. We invite all interested stakeholders to join us in Maclean and Grafton on November 24 to find a better way.

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