TEMPERS FLARE AT HIGHWAY INQUIRY
By JENI FAULKNER
REPRESENTATIVES from the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) should have burning ears after copping a heavy beating during the State Parliamentary inquiry into the Pacific Highway at Coffs Harbour yesterday.
Residents argued about a lack of community consultation, and politicians joined forces to warn that safety measures must be implemented before more lives are lost.
The Punjabi community from Woolgoolga put forward strong arguments against the RTA's preferred Option E route, and Bonville residents spoke of their sorrow living along a road of death.
They were addressing a Legislative Council standing committee investigating the RTA's plans for the Pacific Highway on the Coffs Coast.
Kasmire Singh Gill said Option E, if implemented, would simply destroy his family and argued that community consultation had been lacking.
"Owning land is in our blood and Option E has made me angry because the RTA doesn't understand the impact it will have and how it will destroy us," Mr Gill said.
The committee was told 16 Punjabi families farming bananas and blueberries would be affected by Option E, which passes to the west of Woolgoolga.
Also representing the Punjabi community was Rashmere Bhatti who said the RTA had failed everyone.
"Option E passes through prime agricultural land and the RTA has failed to acknowledge this community," she said.
Bruce Scanlon, from the Woolgoolga Area Residents (WAR) group, accused the RTA of blatantly abusing community needs.
"The RTA presented us with drawings and gave us 20 minutes to make a decision and there was no way of sharing that with the community," Mr Scanlon said.
The chair of the standing committee, Jenny Gardiner MLC, said it appeared the community felt the bypass options had been a classic case of a 'snow job'.
But debate over the highway spread beyond bypass option routes and upgrades, heating up with topics of funding and Government promises.
Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker was questioned by ALP committee member Jan Burnswoods about his apparent lack of lobbying for the Coffs Harbour community.
He was asked about Federal funding towards the Pacific Highway in the past 10 years and his response was regularly interrupted.
"I'd call the Pacific Highway a disgrace because of a lifetime of neglect by the State Government," Mr Hartsuyker said.
His comments were met with applause while arguments flared until the final closing where he said it was a disgrace that Jan Burnswoods would support the 'incompetent' administration at the RTA.
Bonville resident Hugh Heading brought a more personal story to the meeting.
He told the committee how he had witnessed three accidents from his property, including one in which four people died.
"I cannot convey the sheer horror and horrific nature of what I was faced with on that day," Mr Heading said.
"I am not here to give facts or figures or to explain what I saw but the fact is that I should not be here today talking about this because there should already be a Bonville deviation."
Mr Heading also raised his concerns that school children travel on buses along the Pacific Highway north and south of Coffs Harbour each week, many of them standing in the aisle of the bus.
The meeting at the Coffs Ex-Services Club yesterday was the first of two inquiries into the Pacific Highway. The standing committee is expected to report its findings early next year.