LETTER: Former GM tells it like it is on Ewingsdale Road
FORMER Byron Shire Council General Manger Ken Gainger tells it like it is on Ewingsdale Road:
I write to express my concern at the parlous state of the heavily used Ewingsdale Road traffic corridor and the negative impact that it is increasingly having on the economic prosperity of the region.
This road system carries in excess of 20,000 vehicles per day and this number will only intensify as growing numbers of visitors flock to the Byron Bay area. While the Byron Shire Council has had some success in attracting government funding for new two-lane roundabouts at Bayshore Drive (Industrial Estate) and Sunrise, plans to fully upgrade this corridor to two lanes in each direction including new/upgraded roundabouts at the Byron Hospital intersection (the current single lane roundabout built in conjunction with the new hospital is totally inadequate), McGettigans Lane, SAE, and Kendall Street, as well as duplication of the Belongil Creek bridge, and construction of the much needed Byron Bay bypass road (Butler Street alignment) are languishing due to a lack of financial capacity on the part of the Council (the Byron Shire community) to fund such extensive capital works.
The Ewingsdale Road traffic corridor is beset with problems which is having, and will increasingly have a negative impact on the local and regional economy. Examples of this include:
- The heavy bank up of south bound traffic on the Pacific Motorway between 8am and 10am daily due to the undersized Byron Hospital roundabout causing a traffic bottleneck. This is causing alarm at the RMS;
- The dangerous intersection at McGettigans Lane where the growing number of residents from new subdivisions and Steiner School bound traffic play "Russian Roulette” when they try to merge with heavy traffic on Ewingsdale Road;
- The Byron Arts and Industrial Estate (Bayshore Drive) in bound and out bound traffic is heavily congested with considerable time delays while vehicles sit in a traffic queue meaning lost time (increased cost) for business operators and is a major disincentive for locals to travel to the A&I Estate to conduct business. While a roundabout at this intersection is now thankfully under construction, Ewingsdale Road is single lane either side of it ensuring that traffic bottlenecks will continue;
- Although plans and approvals have been in place for some time for the construction of the Byron Bay bypass road along the Butler Street alignment, delays caused by a change in the planned location of the proposed government funded bus interchange and a significant funding shortfall (around $6M) means that this project has been "parked” with a growing risk that the small group of vocal opponents will wear down the current crop of councillors and the project will be scrapped;
- While the focus of many is placed on (Byron Bay) in bound traffic from south bound Pacific Motorway traffic, Hinterland Way and Myocum Road, there is a growing problem with traffic from the south of the shire e.g. Suffolk Park, accessing Byron Bay and travelling to the Industrial Estate or north bound on the Pacific Motorway. Each morning traffic on the Broken Head Road/Bangalow Road is at a standstill - thus consideration of this overall traffic corridor must include holistic solutions which have equal regard for traffic from the south.
All these problems will be further exacerbated in coming years as new commercial/tourism/health sector development grows along the Ewingsdale Road corridor and the Byron A&I Estate, and should the new West Byron residential/industrial estate be developed together with the inevitable growth in visitor numbers each year (now 1.5M per year), Byron Bay is now vital to a healthy, growing economy on the NSW north coast. The risk of not paying attention to the Ewingsdale Road traffic corridor now is that it is only a matter of time until businesses choose to operate elsewhere, visitors get sick of sitting in a traffic car-park and choose to visit elsewhere, and locals choose to re-locate.
The Ewingsdale Road corridor is currently classified as a Regional Road and is thus the responsibility of the Byron Shire Council to plan, fund, construct and maintain. By comparison the Bangalow-Lismore Road, which only carries 7000 vehicles per day is classified as a State Road and as such is fully funded by the state government. It can be strongly argued that the Bangalow-Lismore Road is of little economic benefit to the region given the recent upgrade of the Pacific Motorway and the Bruxner Highway being designated as the principal access road to Lismore. How can the Ewingsdale Road traffic corridor with its 20,000 vehicles per day and significant economic impact continue to be classified as a Regional Road and left to the small, poorly resourced local council to plan and significantly upgrade? It makes no sense.
Byron Shire Council has developed plans for the duplication of the Ewingsdale Road corridor including upgraded roundabout and bridge designs. What it doesn't have is either the resources or the political will to agitate for the full duplication (two lanes in each direction) of this corridor. The economic significance of this traffic corridor has been made to the Premier's key infrastructure advisers who seemed sympathetic to the proposal for a government funded upgrade.
In my view this would be a good policy platform to take to the next state election as the vast silent majority in Byron Shire just want a decent road network. Sure, the Greens and other activists will see this as supporting "over development” but as we know Australians are migrating to the East Coast of Australia in ever increasing numbers and the Byron Shire is not immune from that. Do we plan infrastructure upgrades to cope with that growth or do we continue to reminisce about Byron Bay as a sleepy surfing town until the problem becomes insurmountable?