A “dictatorship” has cut the speed on 44km of the Oxley Highway from 100km/h to 80km/h with no negotiation, says a rider representative.
Save the Oxley Campaign founder Ken Healey says he and various stakeholders were called to a meeting with NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey at noon today to discuss the changes.
“Straight away she said there would be no negotiation, so I thought why have a meeting at all? It’s a dictatorship,” Ken says.
“The Minister was there for half an hour to speak and hear the RMS report and my report, then she left.
“Pavey was un-flexed and the decision was pre-determined and the road is in her local electorate.”
Speed zone details
Specific details of the speed change are still not confirmed. However, Ken believes it is 44km of highway from Raffles Creek to the top of the mountain where it turns to 110km/h.
“There is no compromise with 100km/h on the three big straights, either,” Ken says.
“After the Minister left, the heavy transport industry spoke of how the trailing traffic behind trucks will get worse.
“There’s hardly enough room for cars to overtake and now we hear the three straights will have double white lines, anyway.
“The queue behind trucks will go the length of the mountain. It won’t be just riders getting frustrated but all motorists.”
Motorcycle Council of NSW secretary Steve Pearce last week said, after being briefed by the RMS about the changes, that riders were under siege.
He agrees with Ken that the decision will affect all road users, not just motorcyclists.
He claims some of the effects of the decision include:
- Travel times between cities and outlying areas will be longer;
- Drivers’ frustration levels will increase as they will need more stops due to increased travel times and slower progress;
- There will be a loss of tourism dollars at service stations, cafes and other driver stops, due to fewer road trips;
- Delivery transport costs will increase as travel times stretch further;
- We will likely see less skill transfer between cities and outlying areas as it takes too long for businesses to travel to satellites in outlying areas;
- It will suppress real estate demand in outer regions as travel times blow out.
“Apart from that … a great initiative!
“It is also likely to be the first in a series of speed-limit reductions,” he says.
Other measures suggested
Ken said the meeting called for overtaking lanes, pullover bays, improved corner signage, and a rider education and training campaign to address the safety issues.
The RMS pointed out that the speed change and various other measures were needed because of the six fatalities on the road since 2011.
However, Ken says all the deaths occurred on corners of 35km/h or less, so the vehicles would have been doing between 50-70km/h anyway.
“So why is there a need to change the speed?” he asks.
There is no word yet on when the speed zones will change.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it started tomorrow,” Ken says.
“We don’t know what the police will do, but the local highway patrol sergeant told me the road doesn’t meet their OH&S standards so they can’t police it.
“Apparently there are not enough safe places to set up camp, pull motorists in and do u-turns and three-point turns.
“However, they will probably sort that out pretty quickly.”
The meeting between about a dozen stakeholders, the Minister and RMS officials was held today at noon in Wauchope.
Official press release
By 3pm, the RMS had issued the following press release:
A review of five years of crash data has resulted in the NSW Government investing in a package of work to improve road user safety on a 44 kilometre section of the Oxley Highway.
A new 80 km/h speed limit will be implemented, signage installed and protection barriers upgraded in response to a high crash rate on the highway west of Wauchope.
“Speed has been a major contributor to the number and severity of crashes on the highway between Long Flat and Walcha,” a Roads and Maritime Services spokesperson said.
“As a result of the review in collaboration with the Centre for Road Safety, the speed limit will be lowered from 100 km/h to 80 km/h for what is the most mountainous section.
“The aim of the changes is to keep cars on the road, cyclists on their bikes and create a safer environment for motorcyclists.”
The spokesperson said the reduction across the 44-kilometre stretch of the Oxley Highway will only add a few minutes at most to travel times between Wauchope and Walcha.
“A few extra minutes can save lives.
“In the five years to 2016 there were 67 crashes on this section of highway, five of which were fatal, with another 23 people seriously injured.
“Speed monitoring on this section of highway found most cars were already traveling at 80 km/h or below.
“All road users share a responsibility to ensure safer journeys for the thousands of motorists who use the Oxley Highway between Long Flat and Walcha every year.
“Improvements are expected to begin in coming months and the community will be kept informed.”
More information on the speed zone review can be found on the Roads and Maritime website.
Ken says he was disappointed the Minister, who is also the local MP, did not stay to hear any of the discussion.
The RMS decision follows a major protest meeting last November and a 10,700+ petition that Ken handed to the RMS.
Ken says he fears no amount of protest will overturn the decision.
However, he is keen to take a part in a suggested Oxley Highway safety review committee similar to groups set up in the Snowy Mts and Southern Highlands.
The speed review is part of a $60m plan to “improve safety” on the road. Read about the other measures here.
Speed review history
The history of the Oxley Highway speed review starts in July 2105 with the publication of the Oxley Highway Route Safety Review.
It found the highway had just over twice as high a casualty crash rate as other NSW country roads (30% v 14%).
Of the 415 casualties from 2008 to 2012 on the Oxley, the majority were drivers (49%), motorcyclists (24%) and motor vehicle passengers (21%).
Motorcycles were involved in 96 casualty crashes from 2008 to 2012 with one fatal in 2013.
Just over three quarters (78%) of all motorcycle injury crashes involved a single vehicle and more than half (56%) of the riders involved were locals.
The review made 14 recommendations including removing roadside hazards, adjusting barriers, better line-marking, improving the road, expanding mobile phone coverage and an education campaign particularly targeting riders.
It also recommended reviewing speed zones.
Guess which won!
In September 2016, temporary electronic signs were installed warning motorists of speed changes which included dropping the speed limit to 60km/h from 100km/h on the mountain stretch.
That triggered protests by riders and many local business operators and residents concerned about delays and impact on businesses with a subsequent drop of riders and tourists.
The speed battle included a petition and protest meetings.
In response, the RMS decided to review their speed review and promised a decision by Christmas 2016.
Meanwhile, a reshuffle of the NSW ministry resulted in the Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, scoring the roads portfolio.
Consequently the speed review was postponed and the RMS has been promising it is being finalised for the past 11 months.
Now the speed battle is lost.
However, Ken pointed out that the speed reductions on the mountain are less than the 60km/h initially planned.
The Oxley now joins several other great motorcycle roads in Australia with reduced speed limits.
The infamous list includes Mt Glorious Rd, The Great Ocean Rd, The Putty Rd, Bells Line Of Road and The Great Northern Rd.
The 450km highway runs east-west from Port Macquarie on the NSW central coast through Tamworth to Coonabarabran.
It includes 160km of “motorcycle nirvana” from Wauchope over the ranges to Walcha.
Veteran motorcycle journo Mick Matheson says the Oxley Highway is a road all riders should travel at least once in their lives.
He produced this video extolling its virtues.
“There are about 300 corners, the traffic is usually light, and the experience covers more than just the ride because of the character of the places you visit along the way,” he says.
The Oxley is so popular with riders, the town of Wauchope has declared itself motorcycle friendly.
A member of the MC Friendly committee spoke at today’s meeting about the economic benefits of encouraging riders to the community.
Earlier this month Wauchope held its first annual Moto Fest, attracting more than 1000 riders and more than 180 bikes in the show and shine.