A TRANSPORT industry stalwart fears a "catastrophic disaster" if a key safety upgrade on the Great Western Highway isn't forthcoming. Graeme Burke, who successfully ran Burke's Transport for 50 years before its closure in 2022, knows the Great Western Highway like the back of his hand. He also knows the weight of trucks carrying enormous loads, which is why he is concerned about the constant pressure being put on Mitchell's Bridge, which was hand-built by convicts at Victoria Pass in the 1830s. This was well before cars were available in Australia, back when horse-drawn carriages were on the roads. According to a statement of significance prepared by Glenn Rigdon in December, 2001, the road is "subject to extremely heavy traffic, far in excess of what it was originally intended for in 1832". The same document also notes that its heritage status prevents any alterations. Mr Burke is worried about how much weight is regularly being driven over a piece of infrastructure that's coming up on 200 years old. "Today we're actually running trucks over that bridge that are gross weighing 62 tonnes," he said. "What my argument to it is, you have one of these big trucks coming down Mount Victoria, which is grossing 62 tonnes, you have another one which is going up, and they both meet exactly on the convict bridge together - that's a stress weight of 124 tonnes. "The bridge was never, ever designed for it and it's almost 200 years old." If there isn't some kind of upgrade to the Great Western Highway that takes the pressure off, he fears catastrophic failure is inevitable. "That bridge is a catastrophic disaster waiting to happen," Mr Burke said. He has been calling for a significant upgrade to the Great Western Highway for years and said it needs to be a top priority for the state and federal governments. That's why he was frustrated to learn that a $2 billion allocation for work between Katoomba and Lithgow was withdrawn by the federal government in November, 2023. On top of that, the concept of a tunnel between Blackheath and Little Hartley is even further away from becoming a reality. And it's not just about safety, but efficiency, as well as to ensure there is always a road available to connect the Central West and Sydney. "If we had another massive wet season again and the Bells Line of Road goes offline because of landslides, and then we get another landslide on the Great Western Highway, then Sydney is completely cut off to the west," Mr Burke said. Independent member for Calare Andrew Gee share's Mr Burke's frustration and concern. "Graeme Burke remains one of the most highly respected voices for the transport industry, and his concerns about safety, and those of the wider community, need to be heeded and acted upon as a matter of urgency by both the state and federal governments," he said. "We need a modern, safe, fit-for-purpose expressway over the mountains. "With every passing year more cars and trucks travel on the Great Western Highway, putting increasing pressure on the road and worsening safety issues." Mr Gee knows that a lot of people in the Central West are outraged by the recent funding losses for Great Western Highway projects, and he said he has communicated that to the Minister for Infrastructure, Catherine King. He also said he has "demanded an urgent meeting" with her and for the federal funding to be reinstated. "I am still waiting to hear a response from the minister, but it's a safe bet that she and the government will be hearing from me when parliament resumes," Mr Gee said on November 23. "I will be using every means at my disposal to reinstate this funding."