What Pacific Hwy upgrade completion means for North Coast
Twenty-one lives were lost on October 20, 1989 when a semi-trailer collided with a bus on the Pacific Highway at Cowper 25km north of Grafton.
More than 31 years, $15 billion and hundreds more lost lives later, this month Australia's largest ever road infrastructure project was officially completed. As part of the Pacific Highway Upgrade, there is now 657km of continuous dual carriageway from Hexham near Newcastle to the Queensland border.
The constructed started in 1996 - seven years after the Cowper Bus Crash and the Clybucca Bus Crash near Kempsey two months later and the subsequent coronial inquest that recommended dual carriageway for the length of the Pacific Highway.
Last Thursday Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro joined a throng of politicians at New Italy - where the final 15km stretch between Devils Pulpit and Woodburn opened on December 11 - to appropriately recognise the monumental and significant feat.
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However 60km south it was a more sombre and reflective mood among a much smaller crowd in pouring rain at the Cowper Memorial site. For many it was the final chapter to close the door on three decades of recurring nightmares while campaigning to make our roads safer.
Former SES officer Bryan Robins, general practitioner Dr Ray Jones and Coffs Clarence Police Sergeant Dallas Leven attended each shared their own perspectives on what the completion of the Pacific Highway upgrade means to them and their communities.
BRYAN ROBINS - Pacific Highway completion bittersweet...
DR RAY JONES - 'I saw so many people killed or badly injured'...
SGT DALLAS LEVEN - Grafton tragedy was catalyst for Pacific Highway upgrade...
The highway tragedy impacted so many people from all walks of life. Survivors, families of victims, first responders, media and others who attended the scene, and their families, all have their own story to tell, many of which were told for the first time in The Daily Examiner's podcast series Cowper which was released on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy in 2019.
FROM THE EDITOR: Cowper: It's a story that needs to be told
From The Daily Examiner is a six-part series that takes listeners on an emotional journey to reveal the full story behind the 1989 Cowper bus disaster near Grafton. Told through the eyes of those who witnessed the horror, some sharing their story for the first time, each episode explores a different aspect of the event to reveal a tangled web of trauma and negligence, and how Australia's worst road disaster at the time was the catalyst for the nation's largest road infrastructure project, the Pacific Highway Upgrade.
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