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Mounting M1 horrors hard to bypass

SLOW GOING: A screen shot of Google maps showing the length of the queue (2.71km) on the M1 following Tuesday’s fatal crash.On Tuesday, July 31, I was enlisted to help my son move into a shared house in Sydney.
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We swayed down the M1, my ageing four-wheel-drive and borrowed trailer packed to the gunnels, to start a new, exciting chapter in his life.

After a day’s hard labour it was with some trepidation that I entered the rat race of the M1 afternoon return trip.

As neither my old banger nor I were up to prolonged stints at high speed, we were both content to potter north at a comfortable pace in the slow lane while a desperate flow of commuters poured past in relentless haste.

Not far from Asquith, I did notice an illuminated sign above the road warning traffic was queuing ahead, at the Gosford exit.

I wondered which Gosford exit was causing the problem; there are a couple.

Despite the warning, it was with some surprise that I discovered cars stopped dead immediately after I crossed the Moonee Moonee bridge, still several kilometres away from an exit to anywhere.

Like everyone else, I had gunned it across the bridge in anticipation of the long climb ahead.

Shocked, I stood the old beast on her nose and sat there with my hazard lights flashing, hoping to warn the drivers behind me.

I looked nervously in the rear vision mirror as car after car struggled to pull up behind me.

Then it was a long slog, bumper to bumper, one car length at a time for almost three kilometres to the Kariong exit.

There was no escape from that queue, you were trapped by crazed commuters howling past in the outside lanes at undiminished speed.

Finally declining to turn off to Gosford, I was free to resume my stately progress.

In doing so, I noticed a number of Highway Patrol cars and a fire engine tearing down the southbound carriageway.

Arriving home, I learned there had been a calamitous and fiery crash at the end of the queue I had been in.

Tragically, two people died and a number were injured. Charges have been laid, so it would not be appropriate to comment on or speculate about what did or didn’t happen, of course.

The situation does cry out for some observations in general, however, and raises some questions that the Coroner might well decide need investigation.

During long, hot summer holiday trips north, for example, I recall seeing Highway Patrol vehicles parked beside the Pacific Highway, south of Kempsey, with their lights flashing and displaying a warning that traffic was stopped ahead.

On Tuesday, the Transport Management people were apparently well aware that a hazardous situation was developing south of Kariong; they put a warning about it on their sign – the same signs that normally exhort you to avoid fatigue, watch out for motorcycles and so on.

In cases where long queues of vehicles are stationary on a 110 kmh road, are Traffic Management obliged to inform the Highway Patrol of this deadly combination?

Did they on Tuesday?

When traffic is queued on an expressway, does NSW Police policy require the Highway Patrol to stop whatever else they are doing and engage in accident prevention rather than racing to the scene after the horse has bolted?

And who is responsible for whatever unholy mess in Kariong is causing a three kilometre traffic jam on a high speed motorway; the RMS, or Central Coast City Council?

In either case, what are they doing to resolve the mess and why didn’t they do it before lives were lost and ruined?

Emergency workers and police have a statutory obligation to inform the Coroner when a death is caused by a motor vehicle accident or other such traumatic event.

But it is up to the Coroner to decide whether to conduct an inquest into such deaths.

Given the regular horrors and mounting death toll of the M1, the Coroner would do well to inquire into the tragic deaths on Tuesday.

They may just uncover facts and come up with recommendations to inform a state government apparently flush with cash how to prevent lethal traffic congestion where people are simply trying to escape from the M1 and get home from work alive.

Chris Craig is a Lake Macquarie author and commentator.He is also a trepidatious M1 user.

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