It’s been six years since the famous Urunga protest about the state of the Pacific Highway sparked a flurry of activity from politicians.
No more than a “country road posing as a highway”, the stretch from Urunga to Warrell Creek has been responsible for a tragic number of road deaths.
Today, after so many years of frustration and heartache, the gauntlet is finally being retired as a highway after the final stretch of four-lane Pacific Highway at Warrell Creek opened to the public at around 1pm.
Dignitaries from State and Federal politics, Emergency Services personnel (who were frontline witnesses to the trauma caused by the previously insufficient road infrastructure) and Dr Ray Jones (key organiser of the Urunga protest) were all in attendance today as the scissors came down on the blue satin ribbon.
Uncle Gary Williams gave a beautiful Welcome to Country in Gumbaynggirr language, and former Member for Cowper, Garry Nehl, was on board to hand out a printed history of the project which he first brought to Parliament in the 80s.
WATCH: the official ribbon cutting
The final six kilometres of the Pacific Highway upgrade between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour is now open to traffic, further improving road safety and reducing freight transport costs on the primary road corridor between New South Wales and Queensland.
Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister Keith Pitt said the full upgrade would reduce travel times by around two and a half hours for motorists driving the length of the Pacific Highway.
“The Pacific Highway upgrade continues to deliver a more efficient, safer journey for Australians. Fatalities have halved since the upgrade began in 1996 and are expected to further decrease as more sections open,” Mr Pitt said.
WATCH: as Mel Davis and Jess Wallace try out the new section of highway
NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey said the Australian and NSW governments provided $3.3 billion to upgrade the last 105 kilometres of highway between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.
“Today’s opening means that 81 percent of the 657-kilometre Pacific Highway upgrade between Hexham and the Queensland border is now complete. A wonderful example of what can be achieved when the Australian and NSW governments work together,” Mrs Pavey said.
Federal Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker said the opening of the Warrell Creek section was nationally significant in terms of the overall and massive upgrade of the Highway.
“It means there is now a user friendly divided highway almost all the way from Grafton to Sydney. With the Melbourne to Grafton upgrade also completed that’s a big boost to transport productivity and safety on our Eastern seaboard’s main route,” he said.
Finishing works, including the installation of low-noise wearing surface and the removal of temporary crossovers, will occur after the highway opens to traffic.
Works on the final part of the Pacific Highway upgrade, from Woolgoolga to Ballina, are underway, with the final section of the upgrade expected to open in 2020.
More information on the Pacific Highway upgrade is available on the Roads and Maritime Services website at http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/projects/pacific-highway/index.html.
More details, footage and photos to come later this afternoon and on Monday.