Brxuner Highway : History and Development


Prior to the proclamation of the highway, the route had not developed as one during the 19 th century. Rather, it had developed through the slow process of joining different lengths of existing roads through the late 1800s into the route we know today.

Sir Michael Bruxner, whom the Bruxner Highway was named after, describes the condition of the road east of Tabulam in the late 1800s:

“One of my very earliest recollections is that of travelling by buggy over the new road, just completed, through the Richmond Range scrub. I have the most vivid memory of us all setting out for Dyraaba early in the morning. All went well until we started up the first step of the Range over the new formation which consisted of the soil dug out of the side of the mountain and deposited on the logs and brush cut from the first clearing. Toiling through the sludge, suddenly both horses went right through the bog with only their backs and tails showing. Fortunately a few years before, about 1881, William Ross selected part of Little Creek and erected a hotel and butcher’s shop, where the Mallanganee Hotel stands today. My father walked back for help and Mr Ross came along with a big, brown, bald-face draught horse. The addition of this horsepower had the desired effect and we proceeded on our toilsome journey to reach Dyraaba about dark.
This was my first experience of travelling by wheel on the ‘Bruxner Highway’.”1

At the turn of the century, numerous improvements were carried out on the Lismore-Ballina section, including the creation of the ‘Ballina Cutting’. Also carried out at this time was a deviation of the road on the eastern approach to Yetman, east of Boggabilla.

The route of the Bruxner Highway was included in the initial 1925 system of classified roads as a Trunk Road (No. 64, between Ballina and Tenterfield) and a Main Road (No. 138, between Tenterfield and Goondiwindi). It wasn’t until March 1938 that it was included in the State Highway system which Sir Michael Bruxner helped pioneer. It was proclaimed State Highway No. 16 and stretched from the Pacific Highway at Ballina, which at the time was via today’s Burns Point Ferry Rd , to the bridge over the MacIntyre River at Goondiwindi. It was not until 5 December 1975 that the Bruxner Highway was truncated at Boggabilla, following an earlier truncation of the highway at Emigrant Creek – 7km west of Ballina – in conjunction with a lengthy deviation of the Pacific Highway which opened in April 1964.

The Bruxner Highway was given its name on 2 November 1959 and was named after Sir Michael Bruxner, who represented the Tenterfield area in the Legislative Assembly for forty-two years. More on Sir Bruxner can be found under the “Man Behind the Name” section.

The first major work on the highway following the inception of the Main Roads Board came in 1928 when the then Trunk Road No. 64 was relocated between Lismore and Casino. The old route, via Bentley and Naughtons Gap, was abandoned ostensibly because of its numerous railway level crossings and steep grades. The new route followed valleys via Gundarimba, passing through much easier terrain.

During the late 1930s, virtually the whole section of the highway between Casino and Tabulam was reconstructed and realigned in order to provide a satisfactory outlet to the railway at Casino for the Tabulam and Bonalbo districts, as well as to meet the needs of through traffic.

Post war work west of Tenterfield included the re-routing of the highway to higher ground, between Beardy River at Maidenhead and Main Road No. 382 (Bonshaw-Ashford road), south of Bonshaw, during the 1950s. Having been originally located as near the Dumaresq and MacIntyre Rivers as possible, to keep stock well-watered in the pre-motorised transport days, the highway had encountered regular flooding problems west of Tenterfield. The aforementioned deviation was one such project constructed to improve flood immunity, and another such deviation was constructed during the early 1970s, west of Bonshaw. Between 5 and 18 miles west of Bonshaw, the highway was located on low-lying terrain within the river valley, and thus susceptible to flooding in several locations. A new location for the highway was found, skirting higher ground approximately 3km inland. A 20 foot wide pavement was constructed to a design standard of 60mph, at a cost of $1 million, along the length of the 13 mile deviation. The deviation was opened to traffic on 20 September 1971 .

Further west, between Yetman and Boggabilla, a 54km deviation was constructed over a number of years, opened to traffic on December 1982. The old route was notoriously flood-prone, along the south bank of the MacIntyre River and crossing a number of smaller, unbridged watercourses. The new deviation was initially provided with a high-standard bitumen surface and then progressively sealed. However, the funding dried up and there now remains a 4.7km section of gravel road, midway between Yetman and Wearne. It is this remaining section of gravel road that has prevented National Route 44 from being signposted west of Tenterfield. With the transfer of responsibilities from the State to Local Government for this section of the Bruxner Highway , an early completion of sealing seems unlikely.

East of Tenterfield, post-war work focused on reconstruction of the highway across the Great Dividing Range , however the first major project was the construction of a new bridge over the Richmond River at Casino. The first bridge at this location was a timber structure built in 1876 and this was replaced in 1909 with another timber structure. The second bridge was washed away by floods in 1954 and bailey bridging was installed until a permanent replacement structure could be constructed. A pre-stressed concrete bridge was chosen for the site and was completed in July 1959. Upon opening it was named Irving Bridge and is still serving traffic on the main street of Casino to this day.

Thirty-three kilometres east of the bridge at Casino, the Bruxner Highway crosses a tributary of the Richmond River, the Wilson River, on the western approach to Lismore City Centre. A two-lane, steel-truss bridge was constructed across the river after completion of the Irving Bridge at Casino, and this was opened to traffic on 7 September 1963. Prior to the construction of this bridge, the Bruxner Hwy took a circuitous route through Lismore CBD (Conway St, Molesworth St, Woodlark St & Union St), crossing the Wilson River on a timber bridge and thence crossing the Casino-Murwillumbah railway twice in quick succession.

To the west, a thirteen mile deviation of the highway between Tabulam and Drake was constructed by the Department of Main Roads, including five bridges. The most notable of these was one over Tea Tree Creek, which replaced a two-lane timber bridge constructed in 1896. The opening of the deviation, on 26 November 1971 , was presided over by Mr J.C. Bruxner, the son of Sir Michael Bruxner, after whom the highway was named. The Bruxner family had resided at the property “Sandilands”, located only a few kilometres from the bridge site.

Further major works on the Bruxner Highway had to wait until the late 1980s, when an injection of funds came to improve the eastern end of the highway. In December 1988 construction was commenced on the reconstruction of the Ballina Cutting (5.7km-8.8km west of Ballina) and when this was completed, in December 1990, the reconstruction extended westward for 2.2km as the Perry’s Hill Deviation, completed in December 1993.

Meanwhile, the highway was widened to four lanes through Lismore and Goonellabah. Divided carriageway conditions through Lismore were opened to traffic in December 1990, followed by dual carriageways through Goonellabah in February 1992. However, only three lanes are provided for the climb from Lismore to Goonellabah.

The North Coast Road Strategy of 1993 outlined the future of the Bruxner Highway , with the focus firmly on increasing the safety and capacity of the highway east of Casino. The Strategy recommended that bypasses of Alstonville (a westerly continuation of the reconstruction work that had commenced from the Ballina end of the highway in 1988) and Lismore should be completed within 25 years (i.e. prior to 2018). Formal planning for a 6.6km, single-carriageway bypass of Alstonville had commenced in 1996, with an Environmental Impact Statement exhibited for public comment in 1998. Extensive community response to the EIS caused to design to modified and it was given planning approval by the Minister for Planning in February 2003. With the Federal Government contributing $12 million towards the estimated $36 million total cost, under the Roads of National Importance programme, construction was set to begin in May 2004, with completion scheduled for June 2006. However, the RTA has delayed the project for at least four years, citing changes to Federal Government maintenance funding and a new to make up the funding shortfall by delaying other projects. Quite where the $12 million of federal funding reserved for this project will go is anyone’s guess.

The Bruxner Highway also has its presence on the RTA’s heritage conservation register, with the timber truss bridge over the Clarence River at Tabulam listed for protection. The bridge was constructed by the Department of Public Works from 1901 to 1903 (opened January 1903) and is of the De Burgh Style, the fourth of five stages of the evolution of the design of timber truss bridges in New South Wales . Its single-lane span is controlled by traffic signals and, according the RTA, remains in good structural condition. However, it is probably an impediment to the Bruxner Highway being used by increasing volumes of freight.

1. Department of Main Roads; Main Roads Vol. 37 No. 3; March 1972; p. 76

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