Friday Hut Road, at Binna Burra, may not be the worst road in Byron Shire but it is a textbook study in contrasts.
A new bridge was completed there with federal funding in November last year but there was no money available to fix the road on either side, apart from the direct approaches.
This will doubtless see the new road start to erode as the potholed paving around it continues to crumble.
It was a photo opportunity NSW Labor couldn’t resist to announce plans to pour almost a billion dollars into rural and regional roads over the next five years if it is elected in March.
The funding would include $100 million to fix North Coast roads from Grafton to the border, with $15.95 million earmarked for Byron Shire Council.
Under the plan, the money for remaking entire roads, rather than fixing potholes, would be granted directly to councils based on the kilometres of road they reported to be in ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ condition.
On that basis, Lismore and Byron LGAs come out among the worst in the state.
Shadow roads minister Jodi Mackay said a Labor state government would also take over responsibility for many major local roads, including Ewingsdale Road, from councils.
‘Yesterday, we announced $900 million of new money, not currently in the budget, which will support rural and regional roads,’ she told Echonetdaily.
The commitment comes on top of the existing $543m ‘Fixing Country Roads’ program and would bring the total investment to more than $1.4 billion.
‘The message we’ve been getting from councils is that they need more help with their road infrastructure backlog, that it’s become impossible for them to keep up.
‘The NRMA have estimated that the roads in “very poor” and “poor” condition come to about $900 million. This [funding] will cover off that in every rural and regional area in NSW.
‘The NRMA believes that if you can fix the backlog then the maintenance becomes manageable.
‘It’s also really important that we look at the classifications of local, regional and state roads – and these two [Saffin and Pugh] have been very strong on this, which hasn’t occurred over the last few years because of cost shifting.
‘If we can fix up roads like this – look at the shoulder and the potholes – you go a long way to improving road safety as well,’ she said.
Labor’s Lismore candidate Janelle Saffin said the announcement was ‘great news’ for councils and regional residents.
‘I’ve always said that if we can help councils get back on a level playing field then they can manage to come up.’
Ballina candidate Asren Pugh said it would be ‘unsurprising to anyone who has been to Byron Shire that [roads are] the number one issue that’s raised with me’.
‘Only a Labor government is committed to actually delivering on the number one issue of locals.
‘We’ve had decades of National Party representation and they have done absolutely nothing to address this,’ he said.
Friday Hut Road, at Binna Burra is a telling example of the source of this problem. It is quite plain as you travel across the boundary of the Shire passes as the road immediately improves south of the Byron Shire. It is a road used largely by local traffic and no more than a small number of tourists; its sorry state is not a result of visitors but of neglected maintenance.
$100m is a fraction of the cost to fix North Coast roads from Grafton to the border and $15.9m a fraction of the cost of properly restoring the roads in Byron Shire. It is though a generous sum for the people of NSW to contribute to a problem that is largely a result of councils’ neglect.
It should be matched by:
. appropriate arrangements through I-part to enable councils to raise rates to cover the cost of completely restoring the road systems
. the funding being contingent on councils raising the necessary revenue from ratepayers to cover the cost of repairs
. councils putting in place an ongoing costed maintenance arrangement with full accountability to the State governemnt to ensure the rest of people of NSW are never imposed on in this way again.
As a driving instructor I can do only so much to help my clients remain safe.
As a political activist I lobbied Labor’s Federal Candidate for Page (Patrick Deegan) back in November for Commonwealth money to fix Lismore’s roads – backlog of some $65M to $70M.
I am delighted that Janelle has been able to help pressure State Labor to finally and properly address what (in effect) has always been its responsibility. Local Government is enabled by State legislation but NSW has been so monumentally reluctant to address its own needs – and has been able to get away with this culpable negligence for decades. Not least because this area has been such a National Party backwater for decade after drawn-out decade.
Now all we have to do is to vote Janelle in as the next Member for Lismore (providing that, as well, she persuades her Party to do as its Victorian counterpart did some time ago – better enable tenants to own pets!)
You want safe roads? Vote Janelle 1!