Part Four of a 4-part series
FROM the 1940s, increased motor traffic on the local stretch of the Hume Highway brought business and prosperity to the district.
The highway was designated 'Route 31' in 1954. Mittagong and Berrima became major re-fuelling and refreshment stops for travellers passing through the towns. This however brought considerable detriment to the comfort and safety of local residents and, for motorists, the road became a death trap.
Local newspapers conveyed the seriousness of the situation, as the following extracts reveal:
Southern Mail March 20, 1953. At Moss Vale Court of Petty Sessions, a Gunning woman was committed for trial on charges of manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm, negligent driving and driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The case arose out of an accident on the Hume Highway near Berrima Post Office on April 9, 1952, in which a Colo Vale resident suffered fatal injuries. Southern Mail February 19, 1954. Statistics relating to accidents on our roads show that speed and inattention are the two major factors bringing about accidents. Many motorists blame the state of our roads, but it is the driver who does not drive according to the condition of the road that is responsible. We now have the driver who, because he has a vehicle capable of travelling at high speed, thinks that he can go anywhere at 50 mph. One pothole at this speed is enough to throw the vehicle across the road into the path of a driver who is taking every care. Southern Mail October, 29 1954. For the year up to June 30, on the Hume Highway between Paddys River and Camden there were 437 accidents resulting in 19 deaths and 235 injuries. Human error was involved in more than 80 per cent of these accidents. The Berrima District Post reported in March 1960 that 13 people were killed and another 168 injured on the local section of highway between Braemar and Marulan during the previous year. This figure did not include the deaths of a considerable number who later died as a result of injuries.
The Main Roads Department implemented a bold reconstruction program to eliminate three major local 'death traps' at Cutaway Hill, Berwick Orchard and Hanging Rock. An even bolder scheme was in the planning stages by the 1970s.
This was the construction of an F5 South Western Hume Freeway to provide a standard four-lane, dual-carriageway between Campbelltown and Breadalbane (south of Goulburn). The first section to Yanderra, north of Mittagong, which opened in December 1980 required a bridge to be built across the Nepean River at Pheasants Nest. At 76 metres it was the highest bridge ever built in NSW. During the 1970s four proposed routes through the Wingecarribee district were put forward by the Roads and Traffic Authority for the F5 extension south from Yanderra. These were discussed with district councils, motoring bodies and the public. Many local people preferred a proposed eastern route that would link with the Illawarra Highway and incorporate a bypass of Moss Vale.
The Main Roads Dept; however, decided on a western route, commencing south of Yanderra, which would bypass all district towns and villages and rejoin the existing highway just south of Berrima.
With federal funds, the freeway extension was constructed in two stages. The southern end, at a cost of $46 million, bypassed Berrima and opened in March 1987. The northern end, at a cost of $83 million, bypassed Mittagong and opened in August 1992.
This northern section required the construction of a major road interchange at Aylmerton and, further west, the building through rugged terrain of a 200-metre bridge, 60 metres above Gibbergunyah Creek.
AFTER the bypasses opened, sections of the old Hume Highway remained in use as feeders for traffic exiting/entering the Freeway and as a local road linking Mittagong and Berrima.
District residents were delighted when the bypasses opened. Highway traffic had become a mixed blessing - businesses benefited but fatalities were all too frequent. Berrima was promoted as a fine example of a Georgian village and visitors have flocked there ever since to enjoy the historic setting.
At Mittagong, town improvements were undertaken to divide sections of the old highway, to widen footpaths and to provide additional car-parking bays. To commemorate the Mittagong bypass, an ornamental drinking trough was built on the footpath facing out from St Stephens Church near the Old Hume Highway and Bowral Road intersection. It was opened by John Fahey, Premier of NSW.
The heritage significance of our shire's sections of old highway is now attracting considerable interest.
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169.