Falling on deaf ears

By: Rod Hannifey

The Pacific Highway has never had sufficient rest areas.

Falling on deaf ears
The Newell, south of Peak Hill


The photo is of the Newell Highway at Trewilga, just south of Peak Hill. Well over 12 months ago work started on a new alignment to straighten one of the few twisty bits left on the Newell. At that time I rang the Roads and Maritime Services’ (RMS) contact number and asked what would happen to the old road, suggesting it would be good for a truck rest area.

I rang them a number of times during the time the work was underway, again asking for consideration for part of the old road to be used as a truck rest area.

The first excuse I was given was that the bridge at Hallinan’s Creek had to be removed. Considering we were all still driving over it, this seemed a bit suss. Later, the next excuse was that they believed that traffic would follow the old road.

We lost a popular marked green reflector bay on the northbound side and I again asked why we could not have at least one of the possible five spots.

The work was completed in February and every one of the possible sites was completely torn up. Yes there is a ‘stopping bay on the southbound side, but it is very near the road and so close to two of the possible sites I could throw a rock to them.

I wrote to the NSW Transport Minister and also the local RMS, detailing the lost sites with photos, saying I believed this was criminal negligence. We do not have enough rest areas and as the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has just found in the budget papers, only just over two-thirds of the allocated funding (though it is meant to be 50/50 funded by the states as well), was spent on rest areas and transport safety projects.

Fatigued yet punished

None of our pollies has any clue what it is like to need a sleep, a toilet break or somewhere to safely pull up. It has taken me 19 years of effort just to get the Newell Highway done with green reflectors as an interim measure so we can see and safely use informal sites because we do not have enough formal ones.

There are more trucks, more cars and more caravans, yet we have seen bugger all done to catch up on the deficit. There is no recognition of the fact we are continually told to manage our fatigue and severely punished if we don’t abide by ‘their’ rules, yet all those in power have toilets and rest rooms on every floor and food outlets they can walk to. We can’t even get a bit of dirt marked with reflectors.

I have received a reply saying that the Newell had enough rest areas in that section. However, a section of the old highway at Trewilga has since been identified as a potentially suitable green reflector site. Following a safety assessment, construction is expected to start later this year.

How can they waste money tearing up possible sites when we do not have enough and then say they don’t have the money to build new ones? Yet we find it is there, but still unspent.

I have also made similar suggestions and phone calls to the team working on the Guanna Hill realignment on the Mitchell Highway for using old road sections as truck rest areas. I am sure you will be shocked at my lack of effort in only ringing them four times so far and talking to a different person each time with, as it seems thus far, the same result.

The Pacific Highway has never had sufficient rest areas and I wrote a letter over 10 years ago making suggestions and raising the issue. I also said that as work was done to duplicate it, that a truck changeover facility must be included. Did that get anywhere? No!

Lacking in shade

Ben Maguire, the CEO of the ATA, did a trip with me from Dubbo to Melbourne last month and we did a ‘TRUCK That’ interview with him in Wagga Wagga, and another with Lee Campbell who is trying to get a truckstop built there.

We, of course, do not have a truck stop in Dubbo anymore and while I did ring Caltex and get permission for drivers to use the toilets when they are open during the day, I am still asking the RMS to build a toilet block at the truck parking area on the north side of town. I have also asked for trees to be planted at Brocklehurst over the years but that is also too hard to do it would seem. So now you know why I have little hair left.

I now have a plan to see a map of the Newell with all the rest areas, add the green reflectors, find the gaps where something is needed and then overlay fatigue crashes to see what shows. If we do the Newell first and then follow with other highways, perhaps we will have good data to push for new rest areas or additional capacity.

I spent three days at Megatrans and want to thank Rod Pilon Transport, the Megatrans organisers and Kenworth for their support. The first person who came up to the truck wanted to shake my hand for the green reflectors. From my view, everything after that was a bonus.

I spoke with many people and had a good time and had many comments about the TruckRight Industry Vehicle and its presentation, including the question, "is this just a show truck?" Not bad for seven years old and nearly 1.4 million kilometres.

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