The death of an elderly Blackheath man who was run over by a truck on the highway 12 days ago has reinforced local opposition to the heavy trucks which run through town.
Ken Austin, 82, was hit by a chemical truck on May 10, suffering extreme leg and pelvic injuries. He died in Westmead Hospital last Wednesday night.
Mr Austin’s niece, Robyn, who owns the Piedmont Inn restaurant on the highway, saw her uncle pinned under the truck.
“I was working in my business when I heard a cry of pain from the highway,” she said. “I ran to the door and saw an elderly gentleman trapped under the wheel of a concrete truck.
“I rang an ambulance and ran back to the scene to tell everyone that help was coming. I got down low to the man to offer reassurance and was confronted with the fact that it was my uncle.”
Ms Austin, who grew up in Blackheath, said another resident had been killed in nearly the same spot when hit by a truck five years ago. She said it was time to do something about the volume of traffic running through town.
The RMS has proposed two options for Blackheath, both involving dedicated turning lanes into several of the main side streets. A similar plan for Mt Victoria also recommends turning lanes plus wider shoulders.
But Ms Austin said the proposals would do little to reduce risks.
“It will only serve to increase the flow of traffic,” she said. “Speeds will increase, regardless of signs. It will not stop people walking across the highway, nor is it aimed at getting the heavy vehicles off it.”
She believed one solution was to resurrect a former plan to bypass Mt Victoria and extend that to also bypass Blackheath.
Another concerned highway shop-owner, Lewis Thyer from Tommy Ruff Fishmonger, has gathered nearly 1000 signatures on a petition to remove road freight from the highway.
Mr Thyer said he was not concerned about delivery trucks but only the large vehicles. He has counted 1600 heavy trucks a day driving past his shop.
“Don’t they recognise that the Upper Mountains is a huge tourist area,” he said. “At the moment it’s just a big backdrop for trucks.
“There doesn’t seem to be the political will or the drive to protect some of the most beautiful areas in the country.”
He suggested looking at the European model of investing in rail, specifically a high-speed railway line down the east coast. Even the United States – where the motor vehicle is king – was increasingly turning to rail freight, Mr Thyer said.
Both Ms Austin and Mr Thyer pointed to other towns successfully bypassed, including Springwood and Berrima in the Southern Highlands.
“Springwood thrived once the highway was diverted, so did Berrima,” Ms Austin said. “There are plenty of examples where business thrives, as the town relaxes from the relentless stream of traffic.
“I bet every truck driver on the road would prefer a bypass than snaking their way through our little villages, especially the poor unfortunate driver who struck my uncle.
“I challenge the RMS to come up with a safety upgrade that will solve all the problems we have here, not just Band-aid the old ones.”