Local residents have welcomed the news that Gunnedah Shire Council has applied for funds to finish sealing the Grain Valley Road.
It comes after both the council and residents have fought for state and federal funding since 2007.
Scott McCalman lives between Boggabri and Mullaley, and describes the 17.4km of unsealed road as being in “dreadful, dangerous and vehicle-destroying condition”, and avoids using it where possible.
“I’d like to see the council step up and really push to get this funding happening because it’s an investment for the future prosperity of the shire, safety, and tourism,” he said.
“We’ve been lobbying for over fifteen years to no avail. Rural land holders pay extremely high rates on the Liverpool Plains due to the high value of the precious black soil. But we’re lucky if we see a shire grader once a year to scratch over the rough gravel roads, which smooths it out for about three days.
“It’s 2018 not 1918. This major thoroughfare, which carries an incredible lot of local, interstate and tourist traffic, deserves upgrading as priority for our region.”
Mr McCalman said he sees about four to five vehicles a year sustain major damage from the road, with many more avoiding the route altogether. Even in the case of fires near the Newell Highway, such as the recent Pilliga blaze, he said people refused to use the road as a detour, instead going all the way around.
“I see an awful lot of people in caravans and good cars come on to the road and turn around, and the little villages miss out on the money from coffee and other things,” he said.
Gunnedah Shire Council’s acting general manager Andrew Johns said the council had identified the road as a “priority”.
“[The council] has sought state and federal funding from appropriate programs continuously for the unsealed section of the road since as far back as 2007. Unfortunately, council hasn’t been successful with these applications,” he said.
“Council is now applying through the federal government’s Heavy Vehicle and Productivity Program. Council has previously and will continue to make strong representation to state and federal members on this issue and will take part in a meeting with Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson and Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton next week to discuss the road’s future.”
Geraldine McKay lives in Mullaley and said the impacts are far-reaching for local farmers travelling between properties and transporting supplies.
“During that last Pilliga fire, one of the local farmers was telling me that with all the extra traffic on the Grain Valley Way and interstate B-Double using the road, it was safer for him to travel the inner roads of his property when he would normally use the Grain Valley Road,” she said.
“The cost to the local community is phenomenal in repairs and maintenance on their vehicles [and] it stifles business activity in that you can’t travel the road with food that is ready for consumption.
“We’ve got a bakery on our farm so we can’t travel that road with our refrigerated trucks. It’s partly because it’s so rough and also because the dust would be sucked into the trucks. If we want to go to Boggabri, we’ve got an extra 27 kilometres in travel to go into Gunnedah or down Blackjack Road and onto the Kamilaroi Highway and back out to Boggabri.”
Safety is another major factor, according to Ms McKay.
“A lot of vehicles are just not fit for that road. It’s not safe for people like that to travel on,” she said.
“Safety-wise when my husband does travel that road in our farm truck, I’m always concerned for his safety on the road because you never know what might happen.
“[Passing trucks] is dangerous. You get a total white-out with the dust and you don’t know if you’re on the road, if someone is coming behind. It’s quite a phenomenal experience.”
Ms McKay is an active member of the local NSW Farmers branch and has been vocal about her concerns both under the banner of the association and also as an individual. She said she was prompted to write to politicians in June 2016 after reading an article in the Wheels magazine in which drivers commented that “it was safer for them to drive in the paddock then on the Grain Valley Road”.
“It’s a serious situation and that prompted me to write to all levels of government,” Ms McKay said.
The Mullaley resident said she wrote to the office of Parkes MP Mark Coulton last year, which had been “proactive in prompting the council to apply for that grant”.
“It’s been quite positive. Mark Coulton has been very enthusiastic as has the feedback we’ve received from Kevin Anderson and the critical thing has been for council to actually apply for money to do something with the road,” she said.
How you voted
In an online poll conducted by the Namoi Valley Independent, more than 50 per cent of respondents voted that the Grain Valley Road is dangerous in its current state and almost 45 per cent voted that the road needs an urgent upgrade. More than 4 per cent believed the current road condition is okay.