Gravel road woes

Not good enough: People living along Maria River Road are urging Port Macquarie Hastings Council to maintain the road in better condition
Not good enough: People living along Maria River Road are urging Port Macquarie Hastings Council to maintain the road in better condition

THE state of Maria River Road is in the spotlight again, with a group of concerned people living along the road saying it won’t be long before someone is killed on the popular link to Crescent Head.

Last week about 20 of them, numbering business operators, farmers, retireees and landholders, gathered under the auspices of the Northside Progress Association to discuss the issue.

Their aim, they say, is to convince Port MacquarieHastings Council to take their concerns seriously.

The road, which is bisected by the Port MacquarieHastings and Kempsey Shire boundaries, is currently graded twice a year at the Port Macquarie end according to a works schedule, but the residents want the council to reconsider the works program.

Kempsey Shire Council previously used a schedulebased system for gravel road works, including Maria River Rd, but has shifted to a needsbased inspection system – meaning the shire’s gravel roads are graded according to their condition, traffic load and level of risk, not on a strict schedule.

The section of the road for which Kempsey Shire Council is responsible is generally considered to be in better condition than the part under the Port Macquarie-Hastings local authority.

Unreported “Credit where credit is due, the Kempsey Shire Council section of the road is much better, certainly in the last 18 months or so than the Port end,” said Rick Collins, who lives along the Port Macquarie-Hastings section of the road.

“They might have other issues, but the council has done a good job with Maria River Rd. There have been times when it has been worse, but recently they have been maintaining the road in good condition.”

Mr Collins, who drives along the road to Kempsey every day, said he reckoned he’d pulled more people out of ditches and the bush in the short section between his home and the Port Macquarie Hastings boundary than along the entire Kempsey Shire section, while people at the meeting pointed to a recent crash in which a woman with two children in her car lost control of her vehicle and ended upside down in a ditch. 

Tarcoola Road resident Graeme Sayer said that crash was typical of many on the road. “These crashes often go unreported, so I guess they don’t show up in the statistics, but they happen,” Mr Sayer said.

“As you drive along Maria River Road, you have to take evasive action to not hit potholes, and this means at times you have to drive closer to the side of the road.”

Apart from the safety aspects, business operators with tea tree operations generating millions of dollars in revenue each year said the economic impacts of the road’s poor condition were enormous, while getting tradesmen to call or items delivered was continually difficult for everyone living along the road.

Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s group manger, Duncan Clarke, said the road was afforded the council’s highest level of unsealed road maintenance, which means it gets looked at every six months. “Since 2011, the grading on Maria River Road has increased from annually to biannually, and the council has no plans to increase the service in the near future,” he said.