Destruction, dislocation, disruption: Fears over highway

The minutes of the final meeting of the Blackheath highway co-design committee reveal long lists of potential problems and adverse effects from the bypass plans.

The minutes of the August meeting, published last week online, traverse everything from the potential dislocation of up to 200 families to destruction of the town's village character, removal of bushland, economic disaster and interference with the migration routes of the critically endangered regent honeyeater.

The meeting discussed at length the six options proposed by Transport for NSW. These are: An outer bypass (over Centennial Glen), inner western bypass (along Station Street), widening of existing highway through town, and three tunnel options - a short one and two long ones, one under the eastern side and one under the west.

Concerns were expressed about each option.

The outer bypass would destroy houses, threaten aquifers, hanging swamps, wildlife and the regent honeyeater.

There were dangers with high winds and black ice. In extreme weather or other danger, motorists could find themselves stuck on bridges and in tunnels and find it hard to get to safety.

Aboriginal songlines (Fort Rock) and other indigenous areas would be impacted, as well as some of the oldest post-colonial walking tracks in the region (dating to 1880s). Rock climbers and bushwalkers would be discouraged from visiting and there would also be an impact on the Vipassana Meditation Centre which hosts meditation courses all year.

The Station Street option would involve the resumption of up to 200 homes, with residents unlikely to be able to resettle in town because of its lack of vacant housing or land. This would have flow-on effects to businesses, to the school and to the economy. It would remove one of the biggest businesses, Mitre 10, as well as affect the Rural Fire Service station and the RSL Club.

Excavation along the street would expose the highway noise and pollution to hundreds of residents. Blocking off nearby streets, such as Kubya, would reduce the alternative routes into town. Access to the Shipley Plateau and Megalong Valley would be limited and people trying to evacuate from those areas in case of bushfire would be funnelled into a probable traffic jam along the original route of Station St.

Widening the existing highway would mean different speed limits through town and at its edges, decreasing safety. It would mean the loss of parking, detrimental for businesses, the loss of the skate park and destruction of a row of oaks which provide spectacular autumn colour. There would be increased noise and air pollution and the village atmosphere would be destroyed.

It would create a visual and practical division between the eastern and western sides of town. Barriers would have to be put up in front of the school, businesses and residences. Children walking to school would face more dangers. And cars were likely to create a rat run along Wentworth Street.

A short tunnel with portals near Sutton Park and Sunbeam Avenue would take away significant recreation space and an area frequently used by travellers to rest. Questions arose over the effect on aquifers, construction impacts and the need and location of ventilation stacks. There would be impacts on properties near the portals.

A long tunnel, with portals near Evans Lookout Road and north of the heavy truck weigh station (with either eastern or western alignments), created much uncertainty among the co-design group as there has been little investigation of any underground impediments. The eastern alignment would go under fewer houses but have a higher gradient, resulting in more acceleration and more pollutants.

The committee members had to rate each of the options and the scores were shared on screen and discussed at the meeting, with clear preferences noted. However, these preferences were not included in the minutes.

The results are being compiled into a report which will be presented to the Blackheath community for further consultation next month.

Members at the meeting asked how soon the "losing" options could be taken off the table and the grey strategic corridor, which at the moment stretches over a vast swathe of the town, lifted.

TfNSW responded: "The report and route options for consultation will be available during the October community consultation. This will lift the grey strategic corridor and remove the uncertainty. We will be returning to the community with lines on a map of the options that will progress for further concept work. Any routes not included at that point will no longer be considered."