12 October 2022

McCormack's call for help as regional roads reach brink of disintegration

| Edwina Mason
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truck rollover

A recent grain truck rollover on the Bribbaree Road in the Hilltops local government area has served as a reminder to drivers to take care on the damaged roads. Photo: Ellie Burstal.

As motorists swerve and dodge an increasing number of potholes and shattered pavement on NSW regional roads, the only voice seemingly crying for help is that of Federal Member for Riverina Michael McCormack.

Mr McCormack says regional roads are in desperate need of emergency repair and he has called on the Government to step up support.

You don’t have to drive far off a federal highway to run into trouble – all roads leading north, south, east and west have been smashed beyond repair.

Just ask Don Wilkinson, who drives the Bribbaree bus out in the Hilltops local government area.

Each day of the school term Mr Wilkinson covers a 208-kilometre school route, a local road that travels west of Young to Bribbaree, and each night he returns home horrified.

“First the edges started failing, so the roads have been getting narrower and narrower, and that doesn’t leave me much room to move when it comes to avoiding the potholes,” he told Region Media. “With a bus full of schoolchildren, it all becomes quite unwieldy.”

And then there are the trucks. Due to freight rail failures, Mr Wilkinson is also sharing the narrowing, pockmarked roads with contract drivers transporting grain from western silos such as Bribbaree and Quandialla to Port Kembla.

The wreckages of two truck rollovers within 10 km of each other are a stark reminder of the reality of sharing that road.

“A few of the truck drivers might be in a bit of a hurry but when they’re not familiar with the road, and that road is disintegrating, accidents like these will continue to occur,” Mr Wilkinson said.

“People joke that the best wheat crop they’ve seen in years is growing at the scene of one accident, and part of the truck in the second rollover is still sitting embedded in tonnes of wheat on the side of the road.

“It’s actually not a joke now. These crashes occurred months ago and the road wasn’t nearly in the state it is today.

water-filled pothole

A pothole in the middle of the road near Barmedman. Photo: Meg Behler.

“Heaven help us when harvest starts in the next few months, this is a disaster now. There literally won’t be anything left on the road.”

Mr McCormack is urging the Federal Government to provide a funding boost to councils to repair damaged roads, which pose a significant safety risk for regional road users.

“Relentless rain and flooding has led to many regional roads falling into severe disrepair and the deluge last week has only exacerbated the problem,” Mr McCormack said.

“I have driven on many regional roads recently and have spoken to several regional mayors and they all agree the roads have never been worse – anywhere you go. Road safety has to come first and this Government needs to understand regional people rely on our roads to get to and from work, to take their children to school and to sport or other activities.”

He said he was more than happy to give the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development a tour of Riverina electorate roads to highlight how desperate the situation had become.

Mr McCormack said some councils were already seeking special rate variations to help cover the cost of repairing roads.

“With costs of living escalating, the last thing people need is to be slugged with a rate hike,” he said.

He said an emergency road repair scheme would complement the highly successful Local Roads and Community Infrastructure program and ongoing funding through the Roads to Recovery initiative.

With freight rail lines down, road transport has been used to help clear NSW silos of grain in the lead-up to the 2022 harvest. Photo: Ellie Burstal.

“With the October Budget coming up and country roads in a terrible state, there’s never been a more appropriate time for this funding.”

A GrainCorp spokesperson said motorists with concerns about truck driver behaviour should contact the police.

“You’re right about issues with the rail lines having been washed out and there is naturally more action following consecutive years of high grain production, which is increasing activity on the road in general,” the spokesperson said.

“The majority of trucks leaving GrainCorp sites are not contracted by GrainCorp itself, so it would not be appropriate for us to comment for this story.”

Comment was also sought from Hilltops Council, the NSW Farmers Association and the NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Sam Farraway, but none was forthcoming.

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