Inadequate signs, or lack of them, along the newly-opened Tintenbar to Ewingsdale section of the Pacific Highway has been blamed for confusing motorists heading to hinterland villages.
And some business owners near the new freeway have faced a dramatic downturn in trade which they blame on signs not being ready or temporary ones not working all day or night.
Most of the 17-kilometre, $862 million freeway was opened last Friday and traffic buildup for the peak holiday season has caused gridlock at the unopened Ewingsdale section the Byron Bay turnnoff.
But opening the freeway before all the planned signs have been installed has angered Tony Gilding, owner of the popular tourist attraction Macadamia Castle at Knockrow, between Byron Bay and Ballina.
Mr Gilding says he’s having an ‘ongoing battle’ with the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) for ‘opening the freeway before all signage put in place’ and that even his staff ‘couldn’t find us’.
‘We are suffering and have had to let staff go,’ he told Echonetdaily this morning.
‘The RMS gave us absolute assurances that it would all be in place before the opening but we’ve lots of people are missing us because they can’t see where to turn off.
‘And this is the busiest time of the year but we’ve seen a dramatic fall in trade as a result, we’re collateral damage in all this, I’ve had to cut back on some staff hours to compensate as a result.’
But an RMS spokesperson said it was continuing to work with Mr Gilding ‘as work nears completion’.
‘The permanent signage plan will be put in place in stages as work is completed,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Currently, all available electronic message signs have been installed at intersections along the upgrade to ensure motorists are well informed of changed traffic conditions.
‘As work is still underway at the Ewingsdale and Ross Lane interchanges, installing all permanent signage is not practical with traffic conditions changing as work continues.
‘Motorists are advised to follow the temporary signage as it reflects the most up to date information.’
Mr Gilding says he’s been on the phone with RMS managers but was told nothing could be done.
He said that most of the recommendations made two years ago by the project reference group he was a member of, which would have avoided the current problem, were ‘chucked in the bin’.
‘It’s disappointing, they did not follow up on our blueprint the project… they said they would publish the plan on their website but that’s not happened,’ he said.
‘Why can’t we have full temporary signage to tide us over the Xmas holiday period?
‘The solar-powered temporary signs do not work only work sometimes, I’ve even offered to lend them my generators to power them.
‘They’ve had $862 million and five years to plan this, they had the signage plan two years ago and knew what they had to do but it seem it’s been about looking after the cities and getting the Cornflakes from Melbourne to Brisbane, not local businesses along the route.
Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell says many people are missing turnoffs to Lismore and hinterland villages such as Clunes, Nimbin and The Channon because of the current signage.
Cr Dowell wrote on her Facebook page that ‘If you or your visitors are travelling south to Lismore, Clunes, Nimbin or The Channon please be aware that you turn off the new highway at Ewingsdale’.
‘Take the Bangalow exit unless you want to go through the new tunnel and turn off at Ross Lane or go through to Lismore via Ballina,’ she said
‘There is a sign before the Ewingsdale turnoff to Bangalow but I’m hearing that many people are missing it.
‘We tried to get a bigger and more permanent sign but the Bangalow Chamber of Commerce argued against it as they want traffic to Lismore going via Ballina,’ she said.
Echonetdaily has been unable to contact RMS managers or roads minister Duncan Gay’s media officer for comment.