Highway duplication unpopular

The Save Station Street gang
The Save Station Street gang

Plans to duplicate the Great Western Highway through Blackheath have been overwhelmingly rejected, with 80 per cent of the townspeople wanting alternative options considered instead.

Save Centennial Glen residents

Save Centennial Glen residents

Feedback from community consultation noted that the vast majority asked the RMS (now part of Transport for NSW) to look at improving and upgrading rail links or consider the Bells Line of Road rather than building a four-lane highway through the historic village.

TfNSW has put forward four options through Blackheath: Widening the existing highway, putting a bypass along Station Street, a wider bypass over Centennial Glen or a tunnel beneath the town.

The first option would see compulsory acquisition of homes and businesses, including many historic buildings on the highway.

A public meeting in Blackheath late last year.

A public meeting in Blackheath late last year.

The Station Street option would mean the destruction of homes and businesses along the railway line.

The outer bypass, with bridges crossing over Shipley Road, Centennial Pass, Porters Pass Track and over the rail line at the north, would involve tunnels under the rail line and under the Blue Mountains Christian College. It would have a major impact on the environment of a very popular rock-climbing destination.

Although the tunnel option would involve the loss of fewer homes, opponents have raised issues about entry and exit points, location of ventilation stacks as well as concerns about vibration and potential structural damage to houses during construction.

A report on the submissions received during the public consultation, released last week, showed that myriad concerns were raised about the project.

More than 1,000 people attended consultation sessions held in Blackheath, Medlow Bath, Mt Victoria, Katoomba, Hartley and Lithgow.

A total of 1,759 pieces of feedback were received, addressing issues including adverse effects on the natural beauty of the area, the proliferation of bigger trucks, more pollution, the impact on nature-based tourism, destruction of heritage properties, additional noise and loss of peaceful ambience.

Many complained about flyers foreshadowing possible property acquisitions delivered along Station St and nearby streets in November. They have given rise to much concern about effects on property prices.

TfNSW has admitted he flyers were a mistake.

The report noted: "We extend our sincerest apologies for the flyer distributed to residents of Blackheath on 15 November, 2019. We understand the uncertainty and angst this has caused people. We wrote to residents to retract this flyer.

"Please be assured that no properties have been identified as potentially being required for acquisition in Blackheath. This notification was sent in error and, more importantly, does not reflect our current plans for this program."

The report has touted a 25 per cent reduction in travel time between Katoomba and Lithgow once the highway has been upgraded. Based on the current trip time of about 30 minutes, the saving could be 7.5 minutes.

There was positive feedback from the consultations: Some supported a faster journey from Lithgow to Penrith, others said the upgrade was long overdue and there was also support for employment opportunities the project might generate in the Central West.