It’s a major milestone for our region, and rightly so – the completion of the Pacific Highway upgrade between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour heralds in a new era.
With the opening of the last section at Warrell Creek, about 530km or 81 per cent of the 657km Pacific Highway has now been upgraded to a four-lane divided road between Hexham and the Queensland border. The travel time now saved between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour is about 30 minutes. However, the highway is not about efficiency – important though that is – the completion has drawn a line in the sand on a stretch of road that has taken our family, our friends, and brought grief to our community – it’s a tragedy that many, many, feel no matter the time passed.
The last thoroughfare that was completed, the section of the Pacific Highway between Upper Warrell Creek Road and Scotts Head Road, in the past 10 years saw 33 crashes recorded.
Of those, 28 crashes resulted in 53 injuries and five crashes resulted in six fatalities.
So, it’s with those thoughts – sentiments – that I introduce Dr Ray Jones.
On October 20, 1989, Dr Jones was one of the first on scene after a semi-trailer veered onto the wrong side of the Pacific Highway and into a bus carrying 45 passengers near Grafton.
This horrific experience led Dr Jones to become a vocal campaigner for upgrades to the notorious Pacific Highway in the years since.
Dr Jones is one of the deeply affected members of our Mid North Coast who has endured the devastating and tragic event that is road fatalities.
He is one who has lost, and grieved.
He is also one of those heroic men and women – those in the emergency services – who have borne witness and pain.
When the State Government builds infrastructure, there is much talk of the bricks and mortar. Currently this government has rolled out the biggest investment into this region – ever. There are new hospitals, schools, roads. Upgrades of buildings, bridges and facilities. The grants and funding has not stopped for four years, for both community and state-owned institutions like health and education.
But what we fail to mention is just how much the government understands and supports and works towards the intangible.
Projects like our Pacific Highway – a plan that from the start to end was about people, families, communities connecting, growing and most importantly being safe.