Highway Development Situation - As the CWTF sees it

The Central West Transport Forum is the remnant of the Futures 30 transport and infrastructure committee that emerged from a conference set up some years ago by the Cowra Council. 

The transport and infrastructure committee was one of six committees resulting from the conference but only four of the seventy participants chose transport as their main area of interest.

This is interesting as the issue of transport development, so critical for the social and economic wellbeing of all societies, seems to have always suffered from a lack of public interest and participation.

As time went by we found that council interest in the committee waned and it was felt that a more independent stance particularly on road development issues was needed. It was then decided to establish the www.centralwesttransportforum.org website as a tool to air our views. 

After many years of watching the actions of government administration including our lobbying experiences, we believe the following areas are in need of attention.

Review of State Planning’s actions and protocols to ensure:

  • Engagement of the public at earlier stages of planning so that relevant terms of reference for road development projects are comprehensive enough to lead to best long-term outcomes. (Ensuring adherence to those useful guidelines that already exist would also help);
  • Measures to recognise and address the problem of public apathy and the lack of advocacy in road development matters. (Currently there are no regional road user advocacy organisations in the Central West. Regional industry participation in road development planning is also poor);
  • Establishment of regional advisory or liaison committees attached to the Roads and Maritime Services that would enable regular public consultation with the RMS and bring them into line with most other government monopolies that do have such advisory committees;
  • Recognition of the need for independent government supervision of highway planning to manage the parochialism and conflicting interests which usually arise from local government involvement in road development planning. (This is especially needed in issues of town bypassing);
  • Recognition of the need for town bypassing as a major concern in the modernisation of the highway system and the need for the inclusion of express highway corridors in Local Environment Plans;
  • Greater participation of State Planning in regional road development projects. This would help to bring more balance to the Planning Department’s present attention in for example, private land and building development.  

We believe that the Roads and Maritime Service’s cooperation and acceptance of the above reforms could enable improved public relations and more efficient outcomes for our road system. 

Major planning issues in need of review:

The CWTF views issues related to the Bells Line of Road  expressway planning with great concern.  Our greatest issue lies in the fact that the BLOR has been continually promoted as the only viable option for an expressway between the Central West and Sydney.  We believe that the reasoning behind this is simply the fact that it already exists - not because it will offer the best solution. Research of ALL feasible alternatives is needed to prove this.

Our own study of the situation, based on topographic mapping including knowledge of previous research by the then Bathurst/Orange Development Corporation, which considered a new southern option, has led us to question the promotion of a Bells Road expressway. In a reply to our letter directed to the RTA, CEO, seeking information about this research, it was clearly stated that such research has never been done. This is despite a number of recent high level investigations, all of which have been directed into an expressway based on the current Bell Road which have concluded that a Bells Line Expressway is not economically viable.

We believe that research of this new option, which lies basically south of the existing Great Western Highway, could offer much greater service potential by bypassing but allowing connections to the 70,000 people living in the 18 Blue Mountains towns. As well, it would service the traffic from the Central West. We believe that traffic volume and therefore cost justification of this option could be much higher than a Bells option. Connection to the end of the existing M4, already on the western side of the Hawkesbury River, would also enable much better efficiency and economies. 

In view of the above, the CWTF also sees the current RMS planning activities relating to the redevelopment of the Great Western Highway between Katoomba and Lithgow, with great concern. This issue has a direct connection to the future bypassing of Lithgow and options for overcoming the major problems associated with the passage of the GWH through the Hartley Valley.  The GWH is now classified as a National Highway and consequently will receive what we understand as 80/20 Federal/State funding responsibilities. $250M has been promised to improve the section of the GWH between Hartley and Lithgow with further allocations for safety improvements between MtVictoria and Katoomba. This does NOT include work on MtVictoria Pass.

The CWTF also has concerns about current planning for the Kelso main street (GWH) redevelopment. Again we believe that the GWH, as part of our critical inter-regional connecting highway, deserves much closer regional scrutiny.  We believe any study of this situation must take into account the long-term future development of the highway around Bathurst (another bypass issue). This should also include development issues for both the Mitchell and Mid-Western Highways. 

We believe examination of these issues will show that much more attention should be directed to the modernisation of our highways which in our view is tied much to the problems of bypassing our major towns. We believe that with the mounting public concern being shown about this problem it is time for State Planning as well as the RMS to show greater interest in regional highway development planning rather than leaving this to Local Government.

N.B.  More information about these projects including submissions can be seen on the above CWTF website.

We congratulate the Lachlan Regional Transport Committee Inc. on the work it has been doing for many years in the area of striving for rail service restoration. We recognise that healthy rail and road services are both critical for the social and economic wellbeing of our region. We also thank the LRTC for this opportunity to offer our views.   

Graham Dun 
On behalf of the Central West Transport Forum