Tripodi looks westward
By ADRIAN MILLER
NORTHERN Rivers communities have had a breakthrough with the RTA after the organisation agreed to meet with residents to discuss an inland highway route option.
NSW Roads Minister Joe Tripodi has instructed the RTA to investigate alternative inland highway route options to sit alongside already proposed coastal routes.
The RTA will meet with various community organisations in early January to hear their views on possible inland options.
While unable to confirm the dates of the meeting yesterday, a spokesman for the minister said the Iemma Government would continue to do preliminary assessment work on the Summerland Way inland route proposal.
He said the work was expected to be finalised early next year.
However, the spokesman said early advice suggested the plan was already on the back foot.
"Preliminary advice shows the 'Page Plan' would have potential ecologically contentious challenges because it has the potential to impact on areas of high biodiversity, such as old growth forests and significant areas of threatened species habitat," he said.
News of the meeting came a day after an interim parliamentary report criticised the RTA's handling of the Pacific Highway upgrade.
One of the nine recommendations in the report called on the NSW Government to 'urgently commission a cost/benefit study of upgrading an alternative route incorporating the Summerland Way between Tyagarah/Ewingsdale and Grafton'.
Community Alliance for Road Sustainability (CARS) member Tony Gilding said it was a positive development for affected communities.
"We are meeting with the RTA to explain our view and our research so they are fully informed of what pilot research has been undertaken," he said.
"They can then put that together and come up with the best possible recommendation."
Mr Gilding, who will attend the January meeting, said while no inland route option had been decided upon, any route would probably be more beneficial than a new coastal highway.
"We're not saying the Summerland Way or any inland route is better, but we have a strong suspicion that it is," he said.
"We have a strong suspicion that there will be less community impact from an inland route and there will be significant economical benefits to the region."
Maclean Community Liaison Group member Mark Kingsley said while news of the meeting was positive, more than just discussion needed to come from it.
"It's a great idea, but it needs to be part of a grand plan for Northern NSW which involves upgrades to the existing highway and inland roads, as well as upgrades to rail infrastructure," he said.
Not An Option group member Phil Hazell, a Pillar valley resident, said the discussions were needed.
"I think as far as evaluating it goes, it's a good idea because it at least needs to be looked at," he said.