Following community uproar, Transport for NSW has revised plans to fully close the main transport route connecting Canberra to the South Coast for two months from the end of August, but long-suffering business owners are now asking why the roadworks can’t be brought forward.
NSW Deputy Premier and Member for Monaro John Barilaro said the updated program would see the Kings Highway at Clyde Mountain subject to a three-day weekly closure from 31 August, 2021, through to at least December to allow critical safety work to be carried out.
“We know how important it is to keep communities connected, and we’ve worked hard to deliver an outcome that ensures this critical safety work can be carried out with as little disruption to motorists, local communities and local businesses as possible,” he said.
“Importantly for businesses which rely on tourist traffic, the road will be open on Monday, Friday and weekends, as well as during the September school holidays and October long weekend.”
Previously, work to remove 400 bushfire-damaged roadside trees was going to close the highway – from River Forest Road to Misty Mountain Road – from Monday to Thursday between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, from Monday, 30 August, to mid-November, weather permitting.
Business owners said the timing could hardly have been worse, coinciding with the start of spring and cutting off the NSW South Coast region from Canberra during a time when Sydney trade is non-existent because of ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns.
But now, with both the ACT and NSW in lockdown, they are asking why the work can’t be brought forward and carried out while traffic is at an absolute minimum.
Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce president Mathew Hatcher said he is fully aware that would not be an easy option.
“I do understand, logistically, it’s hard to just move things forward,” he said.
“But we would love for this process to start as soon as possible to make sure it doesn’t run into the Christmas holidays.”
Region Media posed the question to the office of NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole but has not yet received a response.
In an earlier statement, Mr Toole said the decision to revise the plans was done in consultation with key stakeholders.
“We need to carry out critical safety work to remove hundreds of trees damaged during the 2019-2020 bushfires because they currently pose a risk to road users,” he said.
“We understand the impacts extended closures would have on local communities and businesses that have already gone through many hardships, and we’ve worked with them on ways to minimise disruption while carrying out this critical safety work.
“The revised schedule is about getting the balance right – between removing the trees as quickly as possible for the safety of road users, and minimising extended closures and the impact these might have on the community.”
Member for Bega Andrew Constance said the new closure times were determined in consultation with Eurobodalla Shire Council, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council, emergency services, the freight industry and business groups.
“We know how important the Kings Highway is as a connection between Batemans Bay and Canberra, and the last thing we want is unplanned road closures due to trees falling or the risk that poses to road users,” he said.
“These trees have become more unstable due to subsequent storms and flooding, and need to be felled by arborists onto the road from the upslopes, which requires both lanes to be closed.
“Some of these trees are up to 25 metres high and removing them requires the road to be fully closed during the day as there would be an unacceptable safety risk if the work was carried out at night.”
The Kings Highway between Misty Mountain Road and River Forest Road will be closed Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm from Tuesday, 31 August, to allow motorists more daylight hours to travel along the highway.
After school holidays end and daylight savings begins, closure times will change to 8:00 am to 4:00 pm to maximise working in daylight hours and minimise the ongoing impact of the closure.
The alternative north route will be via the Federal Highway, Hume Highway, Picton Road and Princes Highway, and could add up to 7.5 hours of travel time depending on the road user’s origin and destination.
The alternative south route is via the Kings Highway, Monaro Highway, Snowy Mountains Highway and Princes Highway, and could add up to 5.5 hours of travel time depending on the road user’s origin and destination.