Council dodges potholes in government funding to fix dangerous roads

ABOVE: This car flipped on the Clarence Way at Bottle Creek earlier this month. Photo: Tony Leggo

Susanna Freymark

The Clarence Way is close to breaking point, Kyogle Council general manager Graham Kennett said.

“Despite the best efforts of our maintenance crews, the road is literally falling apart in sections behind them,” Mr Kennett said.

There will be no argument from residents on the GM’s statements.

Locals travel the wrecked road in both directions and are desperate to have it fixed.

As you drive off the Bruxner Highway onto Clarence Way heading to Bonalbo, there is a large electronic sign – Severe pot holes next 22kms.

It might as well say – Don’t drive any of this 85km trunk road between Woodenbong and Sandilands.

Soft road edges, potholes on the left, potholes on the right – the road is a nightmare for drivers and their suspension and tyres.

On October 4,  a car flipped – reportedly while trying to dodge a pothole – on the Clarence Way at Bottle Creek. No one was injured and Bonalbo RFS attended in case the car caught fire.

Drive the Clarence Way at your peril.

Ripping up the tar allows better maintenance until the upgrades are done

The council is taking action to temporarily return sections of the Clarence Way to an unsealed gravel state while we await the approvals needed from Transport for NSW to undertake full restoration works, Mr Kennett said. 

“Council acknowledges that this will be seen as somewhat of a step back by the community, however it is hoped that they will understand that this is the best option in the short term, as there are not sufficient resources available at this point to maintain all sections of this road in a serviceable sealed condition.”

The floods created further widespread damage to Kyogle Council’s 1300km road network.

“At last count there are over 1200 items of damage across 273 separate roads,” Mr Kennett said.

So far, Transport for NSW has approved more than $32 million in restoration works, with a further $43 million waiting for approval.

Sorting out what it will cost

Mr Kennett said he was working closely with Transport for NSW on an agreed cost structure and scope for the significant amount of heavy patching needed to restore the Clarence Way to the standard it was in before the disasters.

Council contractors are about to start working with the transport authority on 15,000 square metres of the same type of work on Tabulam Rd this week.

“This is being undertaken as a trial to establish the actual costs of this heavy patching work, which will in turn inform the funding basis for pavement restoration works on the Clarence Way and across the greater network,” Mr Kennett said.

The council, quite simply, does not have the money to address all that is needed for the long-term management of Clarence Way.

Wrecked tar on Clarence Way.

Here, council, jump through these funding hoops

The complexity of state and federal government grants is something council should not have to deal with.  Let alone continually.

But council has no choice.

Council is pursuing funds through both governments, Mr Kennett said.

“The most important of these relates to the State Government’s commitment to taking back up to 15,000km of regional roads – like the Clarence Way – that were dumped on councils’ backs in the late 1990s.

“Just like the Clarence Way, there were many of these roads handed to councils originally constructed with narrow thin pavements, which were simply not up to the standard required to handle the increased and progressively heavier traffic we see on these roads today.”

Council has had applications in since December 2020 to transfer the full 127km of regional roads under its control. It has had no response from the State Government.

As long as the State Government ignores Kyogle Council, it increases the pressure on council.

And it increases the risk for residents when they travel these roads.

Gravel did not meet specifications and this led to failures

“Council has been successful in obtaining $5 million in funding between the NSW and Commonwealth Governments for the upgrade to the section of the Clarence Way between Woodenbong and Urbenville,” Mr Kennett said.

“Unfortunately, despite all the hard work and best efforts of the council staff and contractors, the gravel pavement material supplied did not meet the required specifications, and this has led to premature failures throughout the works.

“Council is seeking appropriate compensation for the cost of repairing the road throughout these affected segments from the supplier of the quarry products, and it is expected that works to repair this section of the Clarence Way will be starting in around five weeks.”

This photo of Clarence Way near Urbenville was taken in February this year.

Change of government has introduced a delay as have the floods

Council has been notified its application for $16 million to upgrade the Clarence Way between Urbenville and Bonalbo was successful. This comes under the Commonwealth Government’s Remote Roads Upgrade Pilot Program and council will contribute a further $4 million.

However, with the change of federal government, the council has still not been provided with a funding agreement from the relevant minister that would allow the project to start, Mr Kennett said.

“Council submitted funding applications under the NSW Government Fixing Country Roads Program for the remainder of the Clarence Way between Bonalbo and the Bruxner Highway back in July 2021.

“Council was advised in June 2022 that there was not to be any projects announced for that round of the Fixing Country Roads Program, as the transport authority staff had been too busy dealing with the floods to assess the applications that were submitted.”

The frustration around this is palpable.

“Applications are now open again for this program and council will be submitting these same applications again, before they close next week,” Mr Kennett said.

This is worse to drive than it looks on the Clarence Way. Photos: Susanna Freymark

And another application – for yet another program is in the works

A new program was announced last week called the Regional Roads and Transport Recovery Package.

This program allows for roads damaged in the recent floods to be “built back better” and is the first of its kind to be rolled out.

Council has flagged an intention to apply for up to $22 million of works with the priorities:

● Clarence Way between Bonalbo and the Bruxner – $11 million

● Improving flood immunity at Tunglebung and Culmaran creeks – $6 million

● Increase flood immunity of Grieves Crossing and Lamonds Bridge on Gradys Creek Rd – $5 million

● Causeway improvements – $2 million

Applications for this new grant close on December 1.

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