Brindabella’s Noelene Franklin says she speaks for a “silent majority” of locals living in the valley halfway between Tumut and Canberra who believe their voices aren’t being heard when it comes to the much-debated road and hope to be included in any future consultation and given a platform to air their views and recommendations.
Ms Franklin, a landholder in Brindabella whose family has held land there since the 1860’s, said that Brindabella Road needs to be made serviceable without spending too much money on a “bad realignment” or a half-finished job.
She argues that if any money is going to be lobbied for an upgrade, the strip of road starting on the ACT side of the Brindabella mountain through to halfway down on the south and western side needs to be abandoned and replanted with snow gums.
“That piece of road was basically put in after the Second World War when everybody had their focus elsewhere and it’s been, I suppose, a bone of contention ever since,” she said.
“It should have never been put there.
“It’s just a maintenance headache, because it’s on the southern side of the hill and a fair altitude.”
Instead, she would like to see the road relocated north to the sunny side of the hill, and north of the power line that goes over the top of the mountain.
“Ideally you’d want to go north of Mount Coree … too,” she added, providing a map of her ideal relocation.
Ms Franklin said that this relocation would provide “something that was functional, relatively safe and a hell of an improvement on what we’ve got now.”
She is also concerned that if the current road is blacktopped and w-strapped it would require kilometres of salt to maintain tourist access when it snows.
Snowy Valleys Council has earmarked $17 million for safety upgrades to Brindabella Road in their Advocacy Plan. The council has proposed an “upgrade, reconstruction and re-alignment” of the road between Brindabella Valley and Piccadilly Circus.
Last month, an SVC spokesperson said that the council was finalising an application under the State Government’s Safer Roads Funding Program for the upgrade, and also intends to make an application under the Government’s Fixing Local Roads Program when released.
Ms Franklin believes that the money set aside for this upgrade would be better spent elsewhere.
“The $17 million … would be far better off spent on a bit more tweaking of the Gocup Road, certainly the intersection there at the Butter Factory which is diabolical,” she said.
The Brindabella local believes that in terms of connectivity between Tumut and Canberra, Brindabella Road doesn’t offer anything that the Hume Highway doesn’t already provide.
“The distance basically from Tumut to the north of Canberra is exactly the same as what it is through Brindabella … and that’s never been voiced,” she said.
“This road alignment and whatever does not compete in any way for Tumut people to go via the Hume Highway and Yass, you just wouldn’t contemplate it,” she added, saying that a drive through the Brindabella would add more time and fuel costs.
Ms Franklin also offered the suggestion of a tunnel through the mountain to improve connectivity between Tumut and Canberra, as a long-term solution.
Snowy Valleys Council was allocated $308,000 through the Stronger Communities Major Infrastructure Fund to engage external consultants to review and update an existing economic feasibility study to determine the benefits of a road upgrade, and to obtain a cost estimate for the design of the major upgrade of the road section from Piccadilly Circus to the Goodradigbee bridge.
“They came in with a little backhoe and they got sugar bags full of soil to go and analyse,” Ms Franklin said.
“Then we had a virtual trip to the mountains which was all wonderful electronics and technology, but it didn’t do a damn thing for the road and it was $308,000 that could have been better spent on probably some heavy gravel, strategically fill up a few potholes, goodness knows realignment to the north.”
Ms Franklin said that moving forward, robust discussions about the future of the road need to take place and everyone affected needs to be involved, with “all cards back on the table.”
“I think the shire needs to come out and meet with the community at some stage with ample notice so people can get there, and actually act on what is said,” Ms Franklin said.
“We’ve had a few Shire meetings – particularly when we just recently went from Yarrowlumla to Tumut Shire, they came out and met with us – and there was a number of corners there that were said to be difficult. All we needed was a backhoe or a bulldozer or something to shave those corners off and increase visibility, and increase the width of it, and none of that was done.
“If we have a meeting, these people need to be able to take minutes, and go home read them, and act on them.”
Ms Franklin hopes that there is room for debate under the new Snowy Valleys Council, and that she and others who have differing opinions to the BRTEL lobby group (Brindabella Road The Economic Link) will be able to express their views to “maximise the value for public money spent”.
“The lobby group that’s there at the moment I feel aren’t realistic, not terribly imaginative and very self-serving,” Ms Franklin said.
“They’re going to end up giving us half a road which will be lethal.”
Ms Franklin also disagrees with Brindabella Road being promoted as a tourist location, especially during times of heavy snowfall.
“It’s being promoted as a tourist mecca which I think is a little bit unconscionable because it can cope with a certain amount of traffic, but the amount of traffic that’s being encouraged to use it is not legitimate,” she said.
Ms Franklin believes that tourist promotion is being used as leverage to access grants for upgrades, and this “is not an acceptable manipulation of public money to create a blackspot lethal road.” She maintains that the terrain has been problematic since Hume and Hovel first came through the area in 1824 and went home a different way.
Ms Franklin said that she and other locals have had to avoid the road on the weekends due to the high level of traffic, particularly on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings.
“That’s when it’s the busiest and we’ve got traffic coming to and from Canberra, and they’ve got no concept of driving defensively,” she said.
“The Canberra traffic is basically unacceptable and their behaviour unacceptable.
“It’s a public road, they are not the only users and they are not the only ones that want to come and ‘wreckreate’.”
Ms Franklin said that during a recent heavy snowfall, one of her neighbours contracted pneumonia and drove himself over the hill to hospital.
“He was lucky to get there because everybody was on holiday and coming at him, and by the time he got to Canberra hospital they had to lift him out from behind the steering wheel,” she said.
“That’s probably a relatively extreme case, but we need to be able to use that road for services, emergencies and medical needs.”
Ms Franklin maintains that she is not anti-road, but thinks that strategic safety improvements for the road that’s currently there should be discussed.
“We’re not against the road as we’ve been slammed for previously, but we want some sort of sensible outcome instead of, you know, putting over potholes to have them break out again in six months’ time,” she said.
“If you half do the job, you’re just going to create heartache.”