A Transport for NSW spokesperson said it’s simply not possible to start tree-felling work on Kings Highway any earlier than the end of August to take advantage of the lull in traffic due to the current COVID-19 lockdown.
The response came after business owners from Braidwood to Batemans Bay told Region Media they were at breaking point when plans to fully close the main road connecting Canberra to the NSW South Coast for four days a week for two months were revealed.
The closures are to allow work to remove 400 bushfire-damaged roadside trees and improve safety on the important transport route.
Business owners initially argued the timing could hardly have been worse, coinciding with the start of spring and cutting off the South Coast region from Canberra during a time when Sydney trade is non-existent because of ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns.
The NSW Government responded by reducing the closure times to three days per week, pushing the work out until at least December 2021.
However, with both the ACT and NSW now in what looks likely to be protracted COVID-19 lockdowns, business owners have asked for the start date to be brought forward and work carried out while traffic is at a minimum.
Given the current plans, they are fearful the closures could extend late into the year, potentially jeopardising the all-important summer holiday trade.
However, a Transport for NSW spokesperson said a start earlier than 31 August is simply not possible.
“Transport for NSW initially provided the community with four weeks’ notice to allow for planning of journeys, preparations for the upcoming closure and consultation,” said the spokesperson.
“This work requires extensive planning to be carried out as safely and efficiently as possible.
“This planning includes the engagement of multiple tree removal contractors and other resources as these cannot be immediately released from current engagements or commitments.”
While business owners were warned of the impending closures, the secretary of the Braidwood and Villages Business Chamber, Nick Kemp, denied they had been consulted.
He said his group expressed its concerns about the proposals to politicians and the NSW Small Business Commissioner, and had asked for mediation.
“Our reserves are really low and our ability to absorb any further shocks is very low,” said Mr Kemp.
“We understand the tree-felling needs to go ahead, but there has been no consultation with the businesses affected. We understand there is only one arborist doing the work. If it’s got to be closed, why can’t they have more contractors and attack different sections of the road at once?
“In a small town such as Braidwood, where we are on the bones of our bum, there seems to be very little interest in how these closures will affect business.”
Transport for NSW said Kings Highway would be open to traffic on Mondays, Fridays and weekends, as well as from 3:00 pm to 8:00 am between closure days (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) to ensure the continued movement of essential travellers and goods.