Opinion/Comment, Social media stories

The bypass: “Concentrate on what is achievable, but keep the message simple.”

I have been following the bypass debate since the recent plans were announced have made a few observations.

By Keith Bensley

There was some very good information provided at the public meeting on 11 Oct but it was extremely disappointing that the request that it not be used as a political forum was ignored by aspiring candidates who brought along their election posters.

We are all acutely aware of the previous government’s record on the Pacific Highway. The motorway effectively finished at Port Macquarie and apart from the Kempsey bypass that was about it until north of Byron Bay!

The present government has to be commended for completing a continuous motorway from Raymond Terrace to Coffs Harbour, north to Halfway Creek over the last 5 or so years. and will be complete all the way to Ballina in 2020.

The bypass of Coffs Harbour, the largest town between Newcastle and the border is a glaring omission and should have been a much higher priority than being relegated to the absolute last, particularly as the route was determined almost 10 years back. At the very least it should have been the next section immediately the Macksville bypass was completed.

There has been a lot of discussion of everyone’s ideas of the ideal bypass but if we stray too far from the facts as they are today and try for utopia we run the risk of delaying the project for another 10 years. By concentrating on what is achievable and going about it in a constructive way we have a good chance of achieving the best outcome possible with no undue delays.

The section of Pacific Motorway from the south was completed to Lindsays Road some years back. The section north of Opal Cove was completed more recently. Both sections are to the standard of 110kph and suggesting that any of this be scrapped is not going to happen.

It has been obvious for some time that the Coffs Harbour Bypass would begin around Lindsays Road and re-join the motorway north of Opal Cove. When we look at the terrain between these two points, the obvious route is to follow the escarpment and where hills are in the way tunnel through them.

This is apparently the route Connell Wagner recommended in 2008 and which Council endorsed in 2009 but that was the end of it and the government of the day did absolutely nothing! Now that the motorway is complete to the outskirts of town it is too late to try and wind back the clock and lobby for other routes which were considered and rejected almost 10 years ago.
No one likes a major road at their back door and while we may have sympathy for those along the route, it has been known for many years where it would divert from in the south and when the work north of Opal Cove was completed, its re-entry point also became obvious. The route should be no surprise to anyone now that it is looking like becoming a reality albeit a very belated reality.

Where the RMS has been badly caught out is their slight of hand in changing from tunnels to cuttings and exacerbating the deception by attempting to conceal the grades necessary to achieve the cuttings. It that’s not enough they then offhandedly dismiss the obvious noise factor! No one is going to accept any of their paltry arguments.

The justification that dangerous goods cannot go through tunnels first appears to have some credibility but it too is diminished when we learn that the number of dangerous goods vehicles not starting or finishing their journey in Coffs Harbour, that is travelling through town, is insignificant!

Furthermore, the regulations for dangerous goods in tunnels are about to be reviewed and it may be that some of the present restrictions are relaxed. We won’t know this until the final design is well advanced and it might be an unexpected bonus!

There has been an assertion that cutting and filling is cheaper than tunnels but there is no proof. We need to see some independent costings. Modern tunnelling machines are very fast and efficient and have zero impact on the environment above. There should be plenty of surplus machines now that North Connex and other Sydney tunnels are nearing completion.

We understand that due to their length, tunnels will need to be managed like the St Helena and Tugun tunnels. Interesting to note that the control centre for both these tunnels is at St Helena. Was it sited there with the knowledge that the Coffs Harbour tunnels were coming and would be half way between Tugun and Coffs?

There has been justified comment on the complexity of the three interchanges, Englands Rd and Korora. The inclusion of traffic lights highlights the significant design deficiencies. These interchanges are far more complex than any other town bypass and could be made simpler and less costly. What is wrong with a roundabout on each side like almost every other town along the motorway?
There needs to be a major disincentive for heavy vehicles entering and leaving Coffs Harbour to the north using the hill over Mcauleys Headland. This is the same argument against grades on the bypass and homes adjoining this hill have suffered for too long need to be spared from this noise. There has been a suggestion of an entrance/exit via Mastracolas Road to the existing roundabout which is worth exploring then the old highway downgraded to light traffic.

The England’s Road interchange is equally a disaster and the RMS needs to start again and this time keep it simple, economical, forget about traffic lights and think about access for heavy vehicles to the Isles Drive industrial area.

Summary
1. The start and finish points of the bypass already exist and there is no point mounting an argument to change these.
2. The route is basically what was agreed and known for almost 10 years.
3. The original concept was for three tunnels. The latest proposal to increase grades in order to eliminate tunnels and the associated noise and environmental impact are unacceptable. The consensus is to revert to the original agreed concept of three tunnels.
4. The north and south interchanges are poorly conceived, do not achieve the objective and need a complete re-design to simplify them, improve flow, remover traffic lights and minimise land acquisition and cost.
5. Heavy vehicles entering and leaving town at the north to be diverted from the Mcauleys Headland hill.

There has been far too much political grandstanding, emotion and hype. Let’s concentrate on what is achievable, acceptable and workable but keep our message simple so the government and politicians can clearly understand our expectations.

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Republished from the Coffs Bypass Group – Facebook. Tuesday 30 October 2018
See: https://www.facebook.com/groups/853408778164579/permalink/977629479075841/
Editors note;  This story generated quite a few comments on Facebook when i published it, mostly about Keith’s comments about politicians ‘grandstanding’ at the community meeting.  Included in the responses were several from the ALP Candidate for the State seat of Coffs Harbour, Tony Judge, and the ALP Candidate for Cowper, Andrew Woodward.  I reproduce them below:
Tony Judge: I tried to make the point at the meeting that you can’t keep politics out of a decision that will be made by politicians. Engineers advise, long suffering public servants get the process in place and contractors build it. But the decision on which option to take is the right and obligation of elected members. Couching a political decision as an engineer’s or consultant’s decision is dishonest. It’s not the way it works and it allows politicians to abrogate their key job, making decisions.

Andrew Woodward (Post 1) “and politics is what has stuffed this up.

8. The process is being unnecessarily rushed

We know from the federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development in Senate
Estimates in 2017 and 2018 that the Coffs Harbour Bypass was always on the drawing board to
commence in 2020/21 financial year (See News Release 23 May 2017 and 21 May 2018).

In summary, an officer of the department stated that this is the logical time to start as it would be after
the completion of the Woolgoolga to Ballina work.
Such a timetable would have seen the final business case go to the federal government in June
2019 for final project approval. By then, RMS would have had all of the missing reports done (by
late this year or early next year) and been able to come up with an informed PCD (which may have
been different to the one released on 24 September 2018). These reports would have been
available for inspection. Following the release of a PCD in early to mid-2019, an Environmental
Impact Statement process would have run and then the final business case would go in on
schedule in June 2019, allowing construction to start in 2020/21.
Remember, they put in a fake”Business Case” in December 2017 as a media stunt. It was a draft, but they never told anyone
that.
What changed, however, was that the federal Member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, was under
intense pressure from Labor’s federal Shadow Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Regional
Development, The Hon Anthony Albanese MHR, and local Labor candidates on the bypass. It was
known that the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was planning a general election for August
2018.
The bypass was a significant issue in the northern end of Cowper and subject to intense
local media and public pressure. To get the issue off the agenda, the Nationals ‘needed’ an
announcement in May 2018 ahead of the August 2018 election, which never eventuated.
Panicking, Mr Hartsuyker convinced the Deputy Prime Minister to bring forward the announcement
of funding of the Coffs Harbour Bypass from the 2019 budget to the 2018 budget, where “$971 million” was allocated to the “Coffs Harbour Bypass”. We know this as only $10 million in federal funds was allocated toward the project in 2018-19 and a total of $235 million would be spent by the end of 2021/22. This means $736 million would be spent from 2022/23 on and we still haven’t seen
a schedule beyond what’s in the 2018 budget papers.

Where is the missing three-quarters of a billion dollars, by the way?

The 2018 budget announcement was essentially ‘fake news’. It should have been in the 2019
budget. And now everyone is scrambling to make it work. Because all of the work hadn’t hadn’t
concluded, the old budget figure of “$1.2 billion” was requested ($1.17b actually – $971m federal
and $200m state). Had the work been done in a typical process, project costs may have been
higher resulting in an increased request for funding. But now the project is stuck at $1.17 billion
because it was rushed and this is the ‘on-the-record’ figure. They don’t want to increase it because
they’re scared to go back to Treasury asking for more and admitting their mistake. They also don’t
want to risk being accused of a ‘budget blow-out’. We are now paying the price for this political
stupidity and expediency. It too defies belief.

Now, a state election is scheduled for 23 March 2019, and a federal election is expected in either
February or May 2019. The typical process timetable doesn’t suit the political needs of the
Nationals. They want the process rushed to get the ‘bad news’ out of the way ‘now’.

Labor has some sympathy for RMS. It had a proper timeline to work to, but the federal and state Nationals
politically interfered with the process to suit the mooted August 2018 federal election timetable and
with that not eventuating everything is geared around the state and federal elections next year.
Stand-by for PR stunts, selfies, brochures, TV ads, fake sod-turnings and more.Should Labor win the Federal Election, it will establish a Federal Integrity Commission. We believe
one of the first government projects this new powerful federal agency should investigate is the
handling by the two governments of the Coffs Harbour Bypass project. It lacks integrity.

Andrew Woodward (Post 2) and for those that complain about politics, I would be delighted to hear of a ‘better way’.
What am I meant to do with the hundreds of people who came to me for help? Tell them to go away?
As Greg says, if we weren’t involved, you would have this project in its catastrophic state.
And then you would complain we didn’t do something about it.
Go figure.
For full comments See: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=500439777100302&id=100014028522804&comment_id=500770113733935&notif_id=1541028863725645&notif_t=feed_comment_reply

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