There was a chilling theme at Friday’s launch of Fairfax Media’s FIX IT NOW campaign in Mollymook. “When I set out on the highway I wonder if today will be the day my number comes up, whether I will make it to my destination.” It was an observation offered by several people who attended.
The faces on our front page did not make their destinations, their lives cut short on a highway identified for years as one of the most dangerous in the state.
They left behind grieving families, friends and communities, and a deep well of anger about the state of the Princes Highway.
At the gathering on Friday, it was agreed the South Coast’s major artery needed to be fixed and work needed to start now.
Yes, driver behaviour plays a big part in the road toll – there is absolutely no doubt about that. However, a separated, realigned highway would significantly reduce the likelihood of driver error having catastrophic consequences.
During our roundtable discussion, it was revealed that a comprehensive 2016 RMS report says almost every bridge from Nowra south needs upgrading. We also discovered there was a long list of specific highway upgrades, planned and costed, that could begin tomorrow – if only the funds were made available.
The state and federal governments need to agree on an 80-20 funding split – Canberra covers 80 per cent of the cost, Macquarie Street covers 20 per cent. But progress on striking such an agreement, we are told, is caught in verbal ping pong over NSW providing a business case. Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis says a business case is needed if federal funds are to be forthcoming; her state counterparts Shelley Hancock and Gareth Ward say business cases for sections of highway work will be forthcoming once an 80-20 funding agreement is struck. And around in circles it goes.
From our perspective, there is something a little grotesque about having to build a business case when human lives are at stake. After all, who is prepared to play God and put a dollar value on a human life?
All of us around the table on Friday agreed the 80-20 funding arrangement was needed. The business case for striking the agreement is already there in stark focus. It’s spelled out in the roadside memorials and the faces on our front page.
This is the message the FIX IT NOW campaign is sending to our political representatives in Canberra and Sydney.