Upgrade heralds new chapter for emergency services
TUESDAY'S opening of the new highway was cause for quiet reflection for former SES officer Bryan Robins.
"I'm feeling optimistic but also relieved," he said.
"Optimistic that it should reduce the number of serious accidents, that the road toll will reduce, and hopefully relief for the emergency services family regarding the volume of accidents."
Mr Robins, like many emergency services workers, spent much of his career attending road crashes along the Clarence Valley's notorious stretch of the Pacific Highway.
"That section and the other section at Clybucca were just killing fields, and there are things that you saw on that road that stay with you forever" he said.
"Thousands of people were affected by loved ones being killed or injured on the old black snake. That's all it was; an old, crappy, winding bit of road that was just an invitation for accidents."
A vivid memory that remains with Mr Robins was a fatal collision on the highway one Christmas Eve.
"It was a head-on crash. The kids survived but the parents died," he said.
"Christmas presents were scattered across the Pacific Highway and of course the emergency services who attended were affected. It's the stuff you never forget."
The new Glenugie to Tyndale Pacific Highway section will also bypass the site of the 1989 Cowper bus disaster which killed 21 people.
The tragedy prompted the hasty construction of a minor road upgrade that Mr Robins said was supposed to bypass the crash site.
"They were desperate to do something after the crash," he said.
"At the time, local politicians were quick to reassure the community that it had been bypassed when in fact it doesn't cover the crash site at all but finishes well before it."
"The whole community knew except the politicians. It was put down at the time as the great step forward but, in reality, it was complete nonsense."
But now that the end is in sight for this major infrastructure project, Mr Robins said he was feeling positive about what's been achieved.
"It's sad it's taken all these years, but I'm glad to see that we finally have a safer piece of road," he said.