Parents are lamenting the dangers associated with the Grain Valley Road just days ahead of a meeting to address the issue.
The meeting between Parkes MP Mark Coulton, Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson and Gunnedah shire’s deputy mayor Gae Swain on Thursday comes on the back of more than a decade of community lobbying to seal the remaining 17.4 kilometres of gravel road.
Mullaley Public School P&C’s Lizzy Bell said she and fellow parents were concerned about the safety of their children who use the Mullaley Bus Service, which travels the road twice a day, five days a week.
“As a general group of parents, we’re concerned because our school bus loops around that, so they go on that road twice a day, about a 10-kilometre stretch of it,” Ms Bell said.
“Half the school catches the bus… It’s pretty terrifying. I choose not to put our kids on it in wet weather.
“We’ve got four little kids - one at preschool and two at school. I put them on the bus in the morning, and I go and pick them up just to try and minimise the time they spend on the bus on that road.”
Ms Bell has been living on the Grain Valley Road for 10 years and believes the number of trucks on the road is “only increasing”.
“The visibility is a really big issue especially when it’s so dry,” she said.
“I followed a truck in from my place today to get here for canteen and you literally can’t see 50 metres in front of you. You just see a dust cloud. As well as the corrugation on the road from the trucks that are always on there.
“It’s not a good enough surface to cope with that amount of heavy vehicles; especially at harvest time it gets particularly busy.”
Ms Bell said it was “too busy a road to not be bitumen”.
“We understand as country folk we will be driving on gravel roads here and there but this is a thoroughfare, it’s not a local road,” she said.
“A lot of the accidents that seem to happen may not get reported because I think that most of the locals know to drive to the conditions; it’s more the travellers - people travelling interstate. They’re not prepared for the conditions.”
Ms Bell has many stories of aiding travellers who have ended up with flat tyres, semi-trailers that have jack-knifed, and vehicles that have become bogged when they have pulled off the edge of the road.
“I just hope everyone can collaborate on it and get it going. It’s really been far too long.”
Experienced bus driver and owner of Mulalley Bus Service, Russell Keam, has been travelling the school route for 10 years and said it is a “disgusting” road.
“It’s destroying a brand new bus. It’s knocking the bottom out of the bus,” he said.
“It’s probably halved the tyre life and if there’s a semi or virtually any vehicle you’re meeting on the road, you just need to pull off because you can’t see for the dust. You’ve just got to wait for the dust to clear and then go back on.”
Mr Keam has been writing to the state, federal and local governments about the state of the road for about five years and would like to see it finished off.
“Before John Anderson got out of politics, he was instrumental in gaining money in doing that road all the way from Wellington to Boggabri and I don’t know why those two little bits weren’t done - 10 kilometres between Mullaley and the crossroads [of Quia Road], and there’s seven kilometres between the crossroads [of Quia Road] and Boggabri,” he said.
“We have very good drivers and we can handle all these conditions but we shouldn’t have to.”
Me Keam said both Mr Coulton and Mr Anderson had sent him “encouraging” responses when he wrote to them. The MPs are supporting Gunnedah Shire Council in applying for funding under the Heavy Vehicle and Productivity Program.