Angry residents didn't hold back when RMS boss came to town

Blackheath: The area shaded in grey encompasses the current shops and existing highway, the railway line, banks of houses on the western side and scenic bushland, rock climbing areas and walking tracks around Centennial Glen. They are all part of the RMS's "strategic corridor". The fine print reads: Options are still to be decided for this area and require further consultation, assessments and studies.

Blackheath: The area shaded in grey encompasses the current shops and existing highway, the railway line, banks of houses on the western side and scenic bushland, rock climbing areas and walking tracks around Centennial Glen. They are all part of the RMS's "strategic corridor". The fine print reads: Options are still to be decided for this area and require further consultation, assessments and studies.

Heckling, anger, exasperation, groans and a couple of walkouts: last Tuesday's public meeting in Blackheath, called by the RMS over the planned highway duplication, had it all.

Alistair Lunn (left) answers questions at a packed meeting in Blackheath on Tuesday night.

Alistair Lunn (left) answers questions at a packed meeting in Blackheath on Tuesday night.

The head of the western region of RMS (now part of Transport for NSW), Alistair Lunn, stood in front of a very lively crowd to answer their questions.

While several thanked him for fronting up to a town in a spin over the options for a possible new road, many were clearly angry and upset.

He opened proceedings by apologising once again for the letters distributed by mistake to some residents on the western side of town foreshadowing possible property acquisitions.

His words were met with catcalls and jeers.

The letters, Mr Lunn has admitted, were a monumental "stuff up" and even after an apology letter was sent, many believe their homes are still at risk.

As one put it: "We're talking about the whole western side of the town being put under a pall for years and years."

Another, responding to discussion of property acquisitions, yelled - "This is not over and done with. We're going to smash you" - before storming out.

Mr Lunn gave a short presentation, including road traffic figures from the four-lane highway east of Katoomba, which showed a 76 per cent reduction in fatal crashes, 60 per cent fall in heavy vehicle crashes, 80 per cent reduction in serious crashes involving a pedestrian and an 80 per cent fall in head-on crashes.

Blue Mountains MP, Trish Doyle, who had to leave early for a bushfire briefing, received a loud cheer when she said: "The purpose and the motive seems to be not for local amenity but to open up the Mountains for long truck hauling."

"I would much prefer that this public money go into a regional freight terminal at Lithgow and that is something that the Labor team is discussing... We have to take freight off our roads and put it on the railway."

She also revealed she had had phone calls from residents in tears after receiving the letters from the RMS but she urged the meeting to "be respectful" to the RMS employees present who "had a job to do".

Questions which had been posted around the room before the meeting were then asked.

These included:

- What evidence is there that rail is at capacity and too expensive to upgrade? Mr Lunn responded that rail is "incredibly congested" and that it carries 54 per cent of freight (with 46 per cent on road). He said an intermodal facility at Lithgow was "something for government to look at".

- Three major government-funded reports have refuted the need for this project. Do you have new data to back the project? Answer: No specific new data however the road safety data showed a huge improvement in safety.

- The western side of Blackheath will have no certainty until the four options are reduced to one - what is the timing? Within the first half of this financial year, that will be two or three alignments. Some time in 2021 it will be refined to a single element.

- Can't freight go from the new Parkes facility to Sydney by rail? The "great sandstone curtain" of the Mountains presents a real challenge for engineering.

- The current budget papers promise only $268 million over four years. Mr Lunn said $2.5 billion has been committed by the NSW government for the project.

- The government has promised a tunnel so why are you considering other options? "We can't rule out property acquisitions are this time. We need to work through that with the community. Tunnel was floated [by government] and it's something we're genuinely looking at." A tunnel is geotechnically, environmentally and financially possible, he said.

- Will the upgrade open up the highway to 30m B doubles? Mr Lunn said the road is designed for heavy vehicles and any new road should be designed to be "future proof" and accommodate changed vehicles in years to come. But what vehicles will be able to use the road is "a matter for government".

- How is allowing 30-metre trucks on the highway going to improve safety? "We understand there are a lot of people in the community who are nervous about vehicles of this dimension," Mr Lunn said, adding larger trucks reduces the number of trucks because each can carry more freight. He said 30-metre "performance based" trucks have to abide by strict standards including cruise control and better braking capacity.

- Is there a do nothing option? "Currently the government has asked us to find a solution to improve safety, connectivity and the like. That's what we have been asked to so ... so at the moment there is no a 'do nothing' option but the project will have to stack up economically."

- What about the implication of climate change? Have you thought about the increase in traffic volume on our global emissions? "Environmental emissions are taken into account through the environmental assessment process."

- Did you know the houses around Lookout Street were gazetted as heritage in July 2019? "We have no intention to demolish heritage houses at this point in time. This will be captured in our environmental assessment."

- What about the potential social impacts? The disintegration of the town, the loss of families, impacts on the local school if families have to leave. We are more than just a thoroughfare for traffic - we are a community and I would like everyone to use this in their submissions. Will there be a comprehensive social impact assessment that we can contribute meaningfully to? "I fully empathise with you. Social impacts are considered as part of the EIS."