Coal costs on highway

THE Hunter coal industry has spent billions of dollars in the past decade on rail and port infrastructure to handle the massive increases in export tonnages that are part and parcel of the coal boom.

Newcastle coal exports have increased by about 70per cent since the start of the 21st century and the lines of traffic up and down the New England Highway each day show the many thousands of extra jobs that the mining boom has created in that time.

Critically, however, the daily traffic gridlocks at Hexham, Maitland, Branxton and Singleton are testament to a road system that has failed to keep pace with the demands placed on it.

The most recent figures available from Roads and Maritime Services (formerly the RTA) cover the years 2001 to 2010 and show peak hour increases through Singleton of 36per cent in the morning and 46per cent in the evening.

The $1.65billion Hunter Expressway will take a lot of the daily pressure off the New England Highway between Newcastle and Branxton but logic dictates it will add to the delays at an already congested check-point when the highway contracts to a single lane at Singleton.

And it’s not only mining traffic.

Singleton Mayor Sue Moore argues the expressway will bring extra traffic from Sydney and the Central Coast. Cr Moore and other Singleton civic leaders want a bypass built around their town and while the state government has begun work on a $250,000 bypass study promised before the 2011 election, the O’Farrell government’s timetable is to pass the project to the federal government for another study in 2014.

For the thousands of Hunter Valley residents whose lives are blighted by the daily race of mining traffic, such snails-pace planning is not good enough.

The state and federal governments must accept the damage that coalmining is doing to the towns along the New England, and embark on the sort of big-ticket projects that have so successfully transformed the Pacific Highway.

And the coal industry – which was quick enough to fund the road and rail infrastructure that benefited it directly – should be made to pay its share of the road improvements.

Drug warning

THE antibiotic gentamicin has been used since the 1960s to treat a range of bacterial infections.

Medical literature indicates that serious side-effects were known from early on, but its importance at a time when doctors had fewer antibiotics to work with than today made it a popular choice.

Now, a Hunter woman has begun legal action after post-operative treatment with gentamicin and the Medical Journal of Australia has released a study showing some doctors are overprescribing the drug. One of the study authors says gentamicin is a good product that has saved lives but its side-effects mean it is not worth using when alternatives are available. Given these concerns, health authorities would be well advised to issue some clear and simple information to the public about the drug.

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