‘We are going to duplicate the Barton Highway … The work is happening as we speak.’
So spoke Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, during a visit to Murrumbateman and Yass.
“As I drove here today, there were a lot of witches hats, excavation vehicles and high-visibility workers out on the road,” he said on Wednesday January 24.
The duplication aims to improve safety on a road that has seen 59 crashes in which four people died, and one seriously injured, between 2012-2017, says Transport for NSW.
Two people also died on the highway last year.
Mr McCormack’s remarks on the highway were delivered along with an announcement of a national review of road safety measures to drive down the road toll to zero by 2050.
However, the transport minister was unable to state a time frame for the Barton’s works. “It’s happening and it’s a rolling process,” he said, but “it takes time and money”.
The federal and state governments have each committed $50 million over four years to upgrade the Barton Highway. The feds have also put up an extra $100 million, subject to the completion of a strategic business case to outline the priorities for road upgrades.
“We’re making sure that we address the areas of the Barton Highway that need the upgrades the most and we’re doing that now,” Mr McCormack said.
Stage one of the project will duplicate the highway between Hall and Kaveneys Road in Jeir, south of Murrumbateman. That stage is set to begin in late 2019, according to the Roads and Maritime Services’ Barton Highway safety upgrades October 2018 update.
The highway will become a southbound carriageway and new lanes will be northbound.
Stage two will then duplicate the Barton from Kaveneys Road to Murrumbateman.
Mr McCormack was asked whether more money should be spent on roads instead of a national review of road safety measures.
“I appreciate that in a simplistic world you could look at it and think it’s not going to put more bitumen on the road, but eventually it does,” he said.
Mr McCormack was joined by The Nationals’ candidate for Eden Monaro, Sophie Wade, who has been lobbying for the duplication of the Barton Highway since 2013.
Ms Wade lives in Jeir and ran the ‘Duplicate the Barton Highway’ community action group until late last year. It’s now led by National Party member James Harker-Mortlock.
“As you can hear today, there is a commitment to continue the work,” Ms Wade said. “What I’ll be looking for and what the community is looking for, is a commitment to finish the road; we’re hearing that there is one. However, we’re also hearing that it’s got to be in time and we can’t have everything at once.”
“I believe the assessment of the road is being taken right through to the end (Murrumbateman), which indicates all of the planning is being done, so that as soon as the funds are available, the rest of the duplication can continue,” she said.
Yass Valley residents remain skeptical after years of promises from the government that the duplication will happen.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment also hangs on The Nationals being voted in at the next election.
“Another election ‘promise’ today, don’t hold your breath,” one Yass Tribune reader, John Gelling, said.
Drivers are reminded that double-demerit points are in place from midnight on Wednesday, January 24 until midnight on Sunday, January 28.