POLICE close a section of the Pacific Highway at Woodburn after a section of road collapsed.
POLICE close a section of the Pacific Highway at Woodburn after a section of road collapsed. Adam Hourigan

Keneally declines highway tour

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally has declined a joint invitation issued by four of the region’s mayors to tour the deadly 212km stretch of Pacific Highway between Ballina and Coffs Harbour.

Instead, Ms Keneally will send the Minister for State and Regional Development, Ian Macdonald, in her place.

Last week the mayors of Ballina, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour councils sent letters to Ms Keneally and Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell, inviting them to see for themselves the poor condition of the section of highway where an average of 20 lives are claimed every year.

However, a spokeswoman from Mr Macdonald’s office yesterday told The Northern Star the Premier was unavailable.

“The Minister (Mr Macdonald) will be travelling to Coffs Harbour to meet all the regional mayorsregarding the Pacific Highwayupgrades,” she said.

She did not indicate when the meeting would take place.

Asked whether Mr Macdonald would join the mayors on a tour of the infamous stretch of road, the spokeswoman replied: “He’ll be talking to the mayors directly about the drive. I can’t comment.”

Ballina mayor Phillip Silver said he was deeply disappointed the Premier would not personally inspect the deadly stretch of highway.

“I can understand their time scheduling and priorities, however, I am deeply disappointed,” he said.

“The point of this exercise was to impart just how diabolical this section of the road is.”

Cr Silver said the point of the letter was not an attempt to jump the funding queue, or pit the ALP against the Coalition, but to get action on fixing the busy highway.

NRMA audit reports from 2003 and 2007 show the stretch between Ballina and Coffs Harbour comprises almost a third of the highway distance from Hexham to the Queensland border.

Almost 90 per cent of this distance is two lanes. Despite having the lowest traffic rate of any of the highway, a third of the highway deaths have occurred here.

Richmond Valley Council mayor Col Sullivan, who will attend the meeting with Cr Silver, also expressed his disappointment yesterday.

“I’m disappointed the Premier can’t come herself, but it’s good she has nominated someone with good standing to represent her,” he said.

“The advantage of going on the trip would have been we could have pointed out the problems along the way, so I would encourage whoever comes to take it (the road trip) if they can.”

Clarence Valley mayor Richie Williamson was unavailable for comment.

The Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, was overseas and willreturn to the country next week.

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