Richie about to reach end of the road
SOON, Richie Williamson will be out of a job - and he couldn't be happier.
The Clarence Valley councillor, former mayor and 2GF radio presenter wears many hats around the community, but one role he's glad to give up will be chair of the Pacific Highway Taskforce.
The group, made up of all councils linked by the Pacific Highway, was formed in 2005 with the sole purpose to secure funding for the highway upgrade following years of failed political promises by successive governments.
"There was a very common goal to attract to the highway, various state and federal governments, to get the thing to dual carriageway," he said.
"It's been a challenge, it's been a fight, but I think the taskforce has been incredibly successful in lobbying for that to happen."
With the new highway scheduled for completion at the end of the year, Mr Williamson's role and the group will inevitably dissolve.
"We had one purpose and that was to get funding for the highway. Now our job is done and what a job it was," he said.
"When the Taskforce first kicked off, at times it really did feel like an unachievable and unreachable goal. But it was that show of uniting force, I believe, is what helped us get there."
Tuesday was a poignant moment for the Clarence Valley community when the Glenugie to Tyndale section of the new Pacific Highway opened to traffic, now officially bypassing Australia's second-worst road disaster.
"You can't help but be drawn by what started this process and that was the Cowper bus crash," he said.
Although a child at the time, Mr Williamson remembers the tragedy well and the impact it had on the community.
"I remember walking out and Mum said there's been a terrible crash. The early footage of the bus being laden over in the paddock … I've never forgotten that," he said.
"I know people that were the first responders. It's impossible not to know them in our community. Some of them volunteers, some of them paid, and they all tell varying stories of how that's affected them, and it has deeply."
"It's hard not to think back to that day, but at the same time it's the most exciting piece of infrastructure we've ever seen in that it really does open the door to untold possibilities."