'One mistake and you're dead': Barnaby at Bruce Hwy
"ONE small mistake and you're dead," Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said as he inspected Gympie's lethal highway link to the north.
"That's what you realise when you drive on these regional roads," he said.
Mr Joyce, who is also the new federal Transport Minister, met Wide Bay MP Llew O'Brien, highway-side at Chatsworth yesterday.
They stood a bare 50m from the spot where a 21-year-old Maryborough man died on New Year's Day.
Investigating police believe the man's vehicle crossed double white lines into the path of an oncoming van carrying a family of five.
They were treated at the scene, taken to Gympie Hospital and later released.
The man's death was the latest of at least 29 fatalities between Gympie and Torbanlea in the past 15 years.
None of them would have happened on a four-lane divided highway, such as the one soon to be extended past Gympie to the east.
It will rejoin the existing highway route near Gunalda and Mr Joyce could not say when work would start on extending that standard of motorway further north.
It is expected construction of the Gympie bypass section will take at least two years, with a start on the project within the next few months.
Mr Joyce said he was still learning his new job and was on the return leg of an east coast tour intended to give him some pre-employment education as Minister.
He had already seen too many regional roads carrying urban traffic concentrations.
He said he also had to move fast on two other dangerous stretches of highway at Coffs Harbour and in southern New South Wales.
But he wanted to get big improvements here as well.
He had found one section of highway where the congestion was so bad people had just stopped.
"It just scares people," he said.
"You see busier roads in Sydney but here the drivers are doing more than 60km/h.
That's what you realise when you drive on these regional roads; one small mistake and you're dead."
Mr Joyce responded quickly yesterday to Mr O'Brien's persistence on highway issues yesterday, including Mr O'Brien's prediction that the Minister would visit Gympie "in the very near future."
"I woke up in Gladstone this morning and was Googling the news, when I saw (on The Gympie Times website) that Mr O'Brien was expecting me.
"So I said to the boss: 'Looks like we're going to Gympie'."
Mr O'Brien pressed the point on the need for urgency, past Gympie and beyond.
"This highway is just about full. We can't upgrade it any more," he told Mr Joyce.
"We've reduced the speed limit and widened the road.
"This is where Southeast Queensland ends and proper regional Queensland begins," Mr O'Brien told the Minister.
"We get about 14 or 15,000 vehicles a day past year.
"This is about opening up the regions and saving lives," he said.
The new Gympie bypass section would be the fourth stage of the upgrade from Cooroy.
"It's 27km of greenfield road. We're looking at $1 billion."
The work so far was about half the full distance and the bypass would account for the rest.
"We've spent $65 million on land acquisition and detailed design and the next step is to call tenders," he told Mr Joyce.
"I'm not going into the job with pre-conceived notions. I'm bringing a fresh set of eyes and I'm here to see for myself.
"Llew's been pressuring me about it and we'll see what we can do, as soon as possible. We've got a critical situation with the national budget, but we also have to get on with building the nation's roads, rail and dams.
"Build the infrastructure and the economy will look after itself," he said.