Aerial view of Tyndale as construction continues to progress
Aerial view of Tyndale as construction continues to progress Roads and Maritime Services

TIMELINE: Pacific Highway Upgrade nears completion

OCTOBER 20 will mark 30 years since the Cowper bus tragedy, which killed 21 people and triggered calls set the Pacific Highway to be continuous dual carriageway from Sydney to Brisbane.

Three decades and several changes in parliament later, the last of the contracts have been awarded and the Pacific Highway Upgrade is expected to be complete some time during 2020.

While this is great news for saving lives on one of Australia's busiest highways, some would say this is long overdue. Indeed the initial completion date was planned for 2016.

Ironically, the final part of the project (excluding the Coffs Bypass) to be completed will be the Glenugie to Tyndale section, within which the Cowper bus crash took place.

<< The Daily Examiner revisits Cowper bus tragedy in new podcast >>

Here's a brief timeline of how the Pacific Highway upgrade has unfolded:

1963: The first construction of four-lane divided road "freeway" was a 7km section from the Hawkesbury River to Mount White north of Sydney.

Oct 20, 1989: Crash at Cowper between northbound Sunliner Express bus and southbound semi-trailer truck killed 21 people and injured 22.

The truck, carrying a load of tinned fruit juice, veered onto the wrong side and collided with the bus.

At the time, the crash was the worst in Australian road transport history for the number of deaths.

The scene that many from the Clarence Valley will never forget. The Cowper Bus crash which occurred in the early hours of October 20, 1989.
The scene that many from the Clarence Valley will never forget. The Cowper Bus crash which occurred in the early hours of October 20, 1989. The Daily Examiner Archives

Dec 22, 1989: Head-on collision at Clybucca near Kempsey between two full Dennin Landseer coaches travelling at 100km/h killed 35 people and injured 41.

It remains the worst road accident in Australia.

1990: Inquest into the Grafton bus crash examined matters relevant to road safety in Australia.

Responses included better regulation of the heavy transport industry and changes to design standards and safety equipment of long-distance buses.

Proposal made to upgrade Pacific Highway into a divided road all the way between Sydney and Brisbane.

1990: Newcastle and the North Coast was "opened up" from the south with the completion of the Freemans Waterhole Interchange in 1990.

1996: The Australian and NSW governments began upgrades from Hexham to the Queensland border.

At the time, the targeted completion date was 2016.

1997: The section of the Pacific Highway at Taree bypassed. It is now named Manning River Drive.

2013: The entire 373km from Sydney to Kundabung, north of the Hastings River, was complete.

But there was little evidence further north of this grand master plan.

2014: New upgrades open at Woolgoolga (25km) and Devil's Pulpit (7.3km).

August 2014: Construction begins on the third and final stage of the project - the 155km Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade.

June 2015: Delivery partner contract for Woolgoolga to Ballina Upgrade awarded to Pacific Complete.

Woolgoolga to Glenugie section started.

December 2015: Opening of 17km section from Tintenbar to Ewingsdale including the St Helena Tunnel near the turn off to Byron Bay. Construction started September 2012.

March 2016: According to Roads and Maritime Services, 408km of the Pacific Highway between Hexham and the Queensland border is now four-lane divided road (62 per cent) and about 145km are being built (22 per cent).

Targeted completion date set at 2020.

April 2016: Acciona Ferrovial Joint Venture awarded contract to build Harwood Bridge, which will have 30m clearance above Clarence River and is the largest bridge of the Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade.

An aerial view of work on the new Harwood Bridge as part of the Pacific Highway upgrade
An aerial view of work on the new Harwood Bridge as part of the Pacific Highway upgrade Adam Hourigan

May 2016: The Frederickton to Eungai section of the Pacific Highway, where the Clybucca bus crash occurred, was bypassed by a dual carriageway, and is now named Macleay Valley Way.

August 2017: Collapse of Ostwald Bros leaves 23 subcontractors working on the Glenugie to Tyndale section - many family-owned Clarence Valley businesses employing local people - $7.5 million out of pocket.

Grafton feels financial strain of Ostwald collapse: Gerry and Kathy McMullan own one of about 23 companies left unpaid by Ostwald Bros for subcontracted work on the Pacific Highway Upgrade.
Grafton feels financial strain of Ostwald collapse: Gerry and Kathy McMullan own one of about 23 companies left unpaid by Ostwald Bros for subcontracted work on the Pacific Highway Upgrade.

October 2017: 10km section at Halfway Ck opened. RMS avoid embarrassment during official opening when truck left skid marks while narrowly avoiding crash where highway merged into a single lane.

Truck skids to slowdown at Highway opening: Southbound truck driver taken by surprise at Highway upgrade opening at Corindi
Truck skids to slowdown at Highway opening: Southbound truck driver taken by surprise at Highway upgrade opening at Corindi

December 2017: Macksville bypass opened. The $830 million Warrell Creek to Nambucca Heads section includes 15 bridges, including the Phillip Hughes Bridge across the Nambucca River near his hometown.

June 2018: Final paving contracts awarded for a 12.7km section south of Ballina signals home stretch of the Pacific Highway upgrade.

Woolgoolga to Ballina – overview April 2019: An overview of work on the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade.
Woolgoolga to Ballina – overview April 2019: An overview of work on the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade.

August 2019: Construction of 48km Glenugie to Maclean section 53 per cent complete. Work currently under way on 67 of 71 bridges. Construction of 27km Maclean to Devils Pulpit section 75 per cent complete.

2020: Anticipated completion of Woolgoolga to Ballina section of the Pacific Highway Upgrade.