14 April 2024

Road upgrades welcome, but growing West Dapto deserves more than smooth talk

| Jen White
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Four people standing next to a road.

Whitlam MP Stephen Jones, Wollongong councillors Ann Martin and Linda Campbell and Mayor Gordon Bradbery welcome road upgrades at Kembla Grange. West Dapto residents would also welcome roads that don’t flood. Photo: Jen White.

Everyone who lives west of the Princes Highway at Dapto knows that when warnings are issued for torrential rain and flash flooding, it really means “get home from work/school now before roads are cut off”.

The roads into West Dapto are already among the busiest in the Wollongong area, and over the next few decades you can add more than 50,000 residents to the mix.

Access to the increasingly populated areas around West Dapto – Darkes Forest, Wongawilli, Brooks Reach and whatever the new Stream Hill suburb will house – is limited to a couple of roads, all of which flood quicker than tickets sell out to a Taylor Swift concert.

Late last week, as the region was on high alert for torrential rain and dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding, Illawarra media were invited to an “update on road upgrades in West Dapto”.

The timing seemed perfect, this journalist thought, for some good news about improved, flood-free roads for those long-suffering West Dapto residents.

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A small group of journos gathered out of the rain on Kembla Grange train station to hear an equally small group of politicians pat each other on the back for supplying funding/welcoming funding for road resurfacing works at three sites. Full stop.

Federal Whitlam MP Stephen Jones happily announced smoother, upgraded roads in West Dapto, “thanks to an investment of more than $1.6 million from the Albanese Government”.

Wollongong Mayor Gordon Bradbery was joined by fellow councillors Linda Campbell and Ann Martin in thanking the Federal Member for his assistance in gaining said investment.

As quickly as the southbound train flashed past without stopping (after all, it wasn’t a race day) any hopes for an announcement of extra dollars, or new roads, went with it.

Don’t get me wrong – everyone who drives on those roads, including the overloaded Princes Highway at Kembla Grange, is very grateful for smoother roads, but I reckon they would be much happier if they knew their normal route home from work would not be flooded when there is heavy rain.

I think we all get it. Wollongong Council can’t possibly afford to shell out the kind of money needed for a high-quality road network – after all, there’s much more to the local government area than just West Dapto. So council has to go hat in hand to the State and Federal governments and, along with every other local council, say please sir, can I have more?

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When council does get some cash from said governments, it says a grateful thank you which hopefully results in a happy snap of collegial pollies appearing in the local media.

But at the end of the day, it’s not enough. Houses have been built at a rate of knots in the West Dapto area without the required road infrastructure to support the thousands of new residents driving thousands of cars every day.

It’s the old chicken and the egg conundrum – more housing is desperately needed but with more housing comes more traffic which requires bigger and better roads, as well as other vital infrastructure such as schools, shops and sporting facilities.

And that all requires money, so who foots the bill? New residents, developers, governments?

After the weekend’s deluge and residents cut off again from the outside world, it’s well and truly time for action, regardless of the cost.

Imagine how catastrophic it would be if someone lost their life because flooded roads prevented medical help from arriving. The cost of building reliable, safe, all-weather roads pales into insignificance compared to the cost of losing a life.

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