IN yet another setback for the Muswellbrook Bypass, the NSW Government has revealed the project will be delayed for at least another six-to-eight years.
Muswellbrook Shire Council was informed last November that its timeline of having it completed by 2020 was “unrealistic”, as it is currently only in the “preferred route” phase.
There is still a level of ambiguity as to what the delay in the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) document actually refers to, with some concerned it is just the planning aspect as opposed to the construction that is set to be pushed back.
During his recent visit to town, NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro stated he had been led to believe the bypass conversation was still in the early stages.
However, that would indicate the “early stages” have been running for at least a decade, according to council’s general manager Fiona Plesman, reiterating that council had been actively advocating for it since pre-2009.
Comments from the RMS regional manager Hunter, Anna Zycki, illustrate it has been much longer than that, given she told the Chronicle in 2015 they were reviewing feedback they received from a community display in 2005.
And, as far as actual funding goes, millions have been funnelled into the planning stage with $1 million allocated in the 2016/17 budget and a further $3.1 million in 2017/18, with a total of $68 million being set aside as part of the Rebuilding NSW program.
In early 2015, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon became involved in a war of words with the then roads minister Duncan Gay, after the former claimed the RMS had put aside $10 million for the New England Highway upgrade, but the government was stalling the project.
An extra $2 million in state funding has been allotted to planning this year, which has left some locals wondering what purpose this money is actually serving given the lack of action.
Despite this, Mr Barilaro said the project is not a current focus of Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen – and it was an issue for local officials.
“It isn’t on the agenda for Michael, it’s on the agenda of the council but that work has to be done, there’s a lot of work to do before you can actually start building a bypass,” he said.
Ms Plesman hit back at these comments, saying the ball was essentially out of their court.
“This is a state responsibility, council has no role to play other than negotiation or/and to provide information at state government’s request, which we have been doing,” she said.
The setback will not be received well, according to Ms Plesman, given the council’s long-term community strategic plan had been completion by 2020, however now all parties will have to reset their expectations yet again.
“I guess it would be fair to say the council remains disappointed the bypass for Muswellbrook remains quite a way off,” she said.
They are pleased about the extra funds, although much more needs to be done before construction could be seriously contemplated.
More money is likely to be pledged in the future, with large bursts of interest from politicians seemingly coming around every four years.
But, for now, rhetoric around the bypass remains much like Muswellbrook’s roads – noisy, overcrowded and often ineffectual.
The RMS was again contacted to comment on the latest hold-up, and emailed a number of questions, but it did not respond before the deadline.
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