First glitch for bypass

HUNDREDS of drivers heading to the Tweed were held up for more than an hour after a technical "glitch" forced the closure of the southbound tunnel of the Tugun bypass yesterday.

The boom gates on the southern tunnel were lowered about 10am, blocking through-traffic and causing major headaches for the hund- reds of drivers and commuters who were left unaware of the reason for its closure.

A software glitch has been blamed for the tunnel defaulting to "fail-safe mode", leading to its closure, with Queensland Department of Main Roads staff working to manually override the system. The bypass reopened at 11.10am.

Traffic stretched back for about three kilometres on the southbound lanes, while drivers heading north continued their journey unabated.

It was first time unlucky for Tim Hansen, who travels to Coolangatta for work from Runaway Bay and had decided yesterday was the right time to try out the new bypass.

"I just can't believe my bad luck," the chef, who works for Outback Jacks, said.

"I normally come down the motorway and take the Stewart Avenue exit and come down the Gold Coast Highway, but I had a spare half-hour so I thought I would come and check out the bypass. Now look where I am.

"I was supposed to be at work by 10.30am, and now it's nearly 11am. I called my boss and he was pretty good about it, so I guess I'll just have to wait."

While the exact nature of the glitch has not been explained by Main Roads Minister Warren Pitt, who is responsible for overseeing the operation of the $534 million bypass, he said the closure was a necessary precaution.

"There was no actual accident or safety risk to the travelling public, and the fail-safe system operated as it has been designed to," Mr Pitt said yesterday.

"These sort of operational teething issues occasionally occur in the early stages of commissioning a new and sophisticated road-management system of the kind involved here."

Mr Pitt's explanation would not have got any sympathy from Bilambil pest controller Graeme Walsh, who lost nearly $600 in business waiting for the bypass to reopen.

"I have had to cancel one job and am running late for another, and for each inspection I charge $298 -- that's nearly $600," the frustrated owner of The Pest Company told The Tweed Daily News yesterday morning. "My complaint is that they had signs at the Currumbin end telling you the speed was 60km/h, not 100km/h, but it wasn't obvious that the bypass was closed, or if it was, where we should go to avoid getting stuck here.

"I have used this bypass at least three times a day since it opened and know to keep an eye out for the signs."

Other drivers said the variable warning signs on the motorway before the Gold Coast Highway exit at Currumbin only warned motorists of the tunnel closure, and did not redirect motorists away from the bypass.

A Department of Main Roads spokesperson has denied that was the case.

"The way the system works is that when it goes into fail-safe mode the variable signs will automatically re-direct traffic off the bypass, and we have been advised the signs were not a problem," he said.

He confirmed there were a number of circumstances that would lead to the tunnel going into fail-safe mode, but did not elaborate on what they were.

"The variable message signs automatically told motorists of the tunnel closure and re-directed them to the Gold Coast Highway."

Another rumour that the hour's delay to reopen the bypass was caused by a key, necessary to unlock the boom gates, being located elsewhere, has also been denied by the spokesperson.

"Yes, a key can be used to manually over-ride the fail-safe system, but the delay was caused by staff having to work through the glitch.

"The bypass was opened as soon as the problem was identified, then rectified."

A review of the operations of the tunnel and the bypass will continue, according to Mr Pitt.

"We have examined the fault that caused the shutdown and we are now reviewing the system to minimise chances of this type of glitch happening again."

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