An expressway road crossing of the Blue Mountains
The Great Western Highway is the main road connection between the Central West of New South Wales and Sydney. The Bells Line of Road is the only alternate route. Both roads have major limitations to their use as efficient transport routes because of their passage through urban areas and their severe curve and grade problems caused by the terrain constraints. The losses caused by the deficiencies of these roads are a significant problem for the Central West region.
The Blue Mountains Local Government area has a population estimated to be about 76,000, living predominately in the 16 towns distributed along the length of the GWH between Mt. Victoria and Glenbrook. The distribution of these towns along the GWH is in contrast with the Bells Line of Road in the Hawkesbury region, where the majority of the population resides in the east and mostly east of the Hawkesbury River. This suggests that an expressway built in the vicinity of the Great Western Highway which would allow access for the residents in the Blue Mountains towns, could have a much higher service potential than a Bells Line of Road expressway. The following comparison of traffic figures of both roads supports this view.
The present traffic volume on the GWH between Bathurst and Lithgow is approximately 7000 vehicles per day. The figure rises sharply to 14000 between Lithgow and Katoomba increasing to 22,000 east of Katoomba and nearly doubling to 40,000 at Glenbrook. In contrast there are about 3,000 vehicles using the Bell road with the figure rising to 12,000 in the east near Richmond. The reduced number using the Bell road reflects the lower population in that area, which together with poor curve and grades situations, narrow roadway, intersecting traffic, numerous speed restricted areas associated with school zones and villages, further discourage its use. RTA crash figures show that both roads share the highest accident rates for main roads in NSW.
Proponents of a Bells Line Expressway argue that an extension of the M2 connecting the Hawkesbury region to the M7 would show substantial benefits by opening up areas for residential and industrial development in the Hawkesbury/Penrith region. However, a Bells Line expressway would need at least an additional 15 kilometres of construction to provide a connection from Bell to the M7 expressway compared to that needed to connect Bell via an alternative GWH expressway to the end of the existing M4 expressway.
In recent years funding in excess of $2M has been allocated to two separate investigations directed exclusively to assessing the feasibility of using the Bells road as an expressway option. The findings of both investigations indicate that a project based on the Bell Line of Road would not be economically viable.
There are concerns about the conduct of these investigations in that they have not provided the expected progress towards a solution to this long-standing problem. For example:
· Research so far, has been confined to a Bells Line of Road expressway option without consideration of possible alternatives in other locations.
· The investigations did not included opportunity for public consultation.
· Major upgrade projects continue to be built on the existing GWH without adequate research to find possible alternative options - options which may show much greater long-term productivity.
· Population distribution and traffic volumes, as outlined above, suggest a much higher return in benefits if an expressway accessible for Blue Mountains residents could be built. This would result in major benefits for tourism, which already is a large part of the Blue Mountains economy.
In view of the high cost and permanency of highway infrastructure it is imperative to “get it right first time”. Logical planning should ensure that all feasible options are properly considered. Current bridging technology allows consideration of other route options. One such option is a route proposed some twenty years ago, by the Bathurst Orange Development Corporation, which follows the Kings Tableland road from Wentworth Falls and crosses the Williams and St. Helena ridges south of the present GWH to Glenbrook. Topographic mapping confirms the existence of this shorter route which is cut by three creek gorges. Recent inquiries to the RTA reveal that this option has not been researched. Should research prove this southern option to be feasible it could:
· provide a shorter and straighter route between Wentworth Falls and Glenbrook. Bridging of Glenbrook and Bedford Creeks and Coolana Brook would be necessary.
· with the exception of Wentworth Falls and Glenbrook, avoid, but allow connections to, all towns in the upper, central and lower Blue Mountains areas.
· provide a route with a relatively uniform grade allowing construction of a fully surface road ( ie. needing no tunnels.)
· allow a staged development program with full and immediate benefits since the majority of traffic is already using the GWH.
· minimise amenity impacts by avoiding the areas considered to be of high scenic value.
· provide significant improvements to fire control in the region since much of the proposed route would use the existing fire trails on the Williams and St.Helena ridges.
Bypasses of the towns of Mt.Victoria, Blackheath, Medlow Bath, Katoomba and Leura could be more easily achieved, since the ridges in the upper and western section of Blue Mountains are generally wider and although far from being ideal, would allow more flexibility in the choice of a corridor as outlined on the attached map.
An expressway built on the above alignment, incorporating a shorter north Lithgow bypass could maximise connection benefits for all concerned.