Access problems delay icons plans

OUR Big Banana, one of the Top 10 most photographed Australian icons, is about to get even bigger. Bigger and wetter.

But there’s a catch. Joint owners Village Building Co and the Rubie family have revealed their multi-million dollar redevelopment proposals for the tourist attraction rely on improved Pacific Highway access.

With a substantial investment in the wings, company directors met with the Roads and Traffic Authority this week trying to find a solution to its highway frustrations.

“It is well known that access and egress to the Big Banana has increasingly become unsafe and problematic due to the large volumes of highway traffic, particularly during peak hours,”

Village Building managing director Bob Winnel said.

“We have spent five years working on our master plan, proposing a water park, improved restaurant and dining, residential and tourist accommodation in the form of a 300 apartment complex and possibly even a hotel.

“Our permanent water park proposal has been stymied by a lack of decision over the maintenance of the entry and exit points, we now want a decision by December so we can prepare to have the park open by Christmas 2012,” he said.

Since announcing its master plan, the company has spent several years in talks with the RTA and conducting its own traffic reports and assessments.

The company believes the best solution is a set of traffic lights, opposite the Diggers Beach Rd turn-off, that periodically allow south bound traffic to turn across the western highway lanes.

“With gaps in passing traffic becoming fewer and farther between, it appears this is the best solution to meet all the design parameters at this location,” Village Building regional manager Peter Ramstadius said.

“In addition the existing merging lanes and exits would also need to be redesigned to improve safety generally, especially for buses, coaches and cars towing caravans.”

The company says the traffic lights would have minimal impact on the western lanes, outside of peak hour times.

Flashing signs and other safety measures would warn approaching traffic of the lights ahead.

“This would also have the effect of slowing the traffic generally in this location which is one of the RTA’s concerns shared by the developers, especially given the recent spate of accidents in the general vicinity,” Mr Ramstadius said.

Asked about the potential danger of highway traffic stopping for a red light on a steep hill, Mr Winnel said the lights would be an interim measure under a 10-year plan to eventually make the Big Banana’s main entrance via West Korora Rd.

General manager Drew Grove says the goal is to make the Big Banana a destination, rather than an after thought for motorists as they pass through Coffs Harbour.

“In our research we have heard from a lot of visitors who say ‘we missed you as we travelled through from the north, we were going to stop but it’s just so hard too get across the highway’,” Mr Grove said.

The company has identified traffic travelling south, in particular from the Gold Coast and Brisbane, as its main growth market along with local patronage.

The developers realise the Coffs Coast public is crying out for new attractions, namely the permanent water park, which would feature three slides designed by the creators of Wet ‘N’ Wild.

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