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Blackheath Co-Design Committee update

On 6th May 2020 the RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) division of Transport for NSW hosted an online session of the first of up to four meetings of the Blackheath Co-Design Committee, a group that has been established by the RMS to involve the Blackheath community in the planning process of RMS’s proposed Great Western Highway (GWH) Upgrade through Blackheath. The RMS has presented Blackheath with four options for a 4-lane dual carriageway highway to cut through Blackheath (and Medlow Bath and Mt Victoria) as part of this planned $5 to $10bn upgrade for the 34 km stretch of road from Katoomba to Lithgow along the GWH.

BAG, represented by Blackheath local Gary McCue, is one of the 10 local community groups that have been allowed to sit on this committee, which also includes three emergency services reps, reps from the Blue Mts City Council, two community reps, and at the first meeting two alternative reps from the community were allowed to participate. BAG is staunchly opposed to all four of the proposed RMS options for Blackheath, which the RMS tells us will save a mere 10 minutes of driving time for residents of the Central West travelling to Sydney, facilitate the transport of freight across the mountains by allowing B- Double trucks and Performance Based Standard Vehicles of up to 30m long to rumble through our beautiful Blue Mountains communities and school zones, reduce congestion on the GWH and increase safety.

This initial Co-Design Committee meeting began with an ominious directive from one of the facilitators stating that this committee is basically only an advisory panel, it is not a decision making body, and the final decision for the GWH Upgrade through Blackheath will be made by the State Government, with recommendations from the Committee contributing to the final outcome.

And despite the Blackheath community overwhelmingly telling the RMS during the public consultation meetings held in November and December that they wanted none of the options offered by RMS for the GWH Upgrade through Blackheath, and that they wanted the NSW government to consider other options such as freight on rail, the RMS imposed strict procedural rules that the Co-Design Committee cannot discuss the No Option choice, nor discuss Freight on Rail, nor discuss highway upgrade options on Bells Line of Road.

The meeting then continued with introductions from each of the Committee members and attending RMS officials. Alistair Lunn, Chairperson of the Co-Design Committee and head of the Western Regional Office of RMS, spoke about the planned upgrade of the 34 km stretch of the GWH from Katoomba to Lithgow, the RMS reasoning for the GWH Upgrade, and the agenda for the upcoming 3 or 4 Co-Design Committee meetings. He then answered questions from Committee members.

Following a break, Iain Macleod, a Project Manager from RMS, spoke about how the RMS went from an original 9 Upgrade options through Blackheath, showing a map outlining these various options, to the Final Four options on a map which was shown very briefly, and only a minute or so was spent describing these options. The four Blackheath GWH Upgrade options that are allowed to be discussed by the Co-Design Committee are:

1) A Western Option with a 4-lane highway that leaves the GWH to cut across Shipley Road, curves along the edge of Centennial Glen and Porters Pass in a series of long bridges, then tunnels under the Christian School and finishes by cutting across near or on the Vipassana Centre’s property at the end of Station Street to then cross the rail line to remeet the GWH.

2) An Eastern Option with a 4-lane highway that leaves the GWH somewhere near Hill 33 on the southern end of Blackheath, crosses the rail line then follows Station Street either above ground or in a Cut-and-Cover style “tunnel” (like the road cutting at Leura on the GWH, not an underground tunnel dug deep into rock) that follows the length of Station Street to about Kanimbla Street, then recrosses the rail line to rejoin the GWH somewhere near Sunbeam Road.

3) An option that widens the existing GWH corridor to 4 lanes through the centre of Blackheath.

4) A tunnel option under Blackheath that is actually two tunnel options:

a) A Long Tunnel Option that starts with an entrance portal somewhere near Evans Lookout Road then proceeds in a straight line deep in the rock under Blackheath for about 4.5 km to come out at a tunnel portal near Weber’s Nursery and the Mt Boyce Weigh Station, and

b) A Short Tunnel Option that probably starts near the base of Hill 33 to the south of Blackheath and basically follows the GWH underground cut into the bedrock (not Cut-and-Cover) with a portal at the north end somewhere near the cemetery.

The next speaker was Paul Peters, another Project Manager from RMS, who spoke about heritage and environmental issues, technical issues, issues with existing infrastructure and other constraints that must be considered when planning the GWH Upgrade through Blackheath.

In the final portion of the 2.5 hour online session, the RMS officials answered questions from the Committee, but surprisingly little information was ever offered by these RMS “experts” for any question they were asked. Here are the public minutes of the Co-Design meeting and the questions session posted by RMS on their website:

Minutes Blackheath Co-Design Committee - 6 May 2020

The second online meeting of the Blackheath Co-Design Committee is to occur on Wednesday evening, 3rd June. According to the first meeting, the Agenda for the 2nd and 3rd meetings will be:

1) Discussion of the 4 GWH options in Blackheath

2) Discussion of New Options

3) Discussion how these various options relate to each other

4) Breaking into smaller groups/workshops.

The 4th meeting is listed as “If Required” and the Co-Design Committee is meant to whittle down the original 4 Options to either two or one final options, which would then be presented to the Blackheath community for further discussion and public meetings at a later date, probably next year.

As a member of the BAG team and their representative on the Co-Design Committee, I am dedicated to finding the absolute best solution for Blackheath, as well as working toward the best possible outcome for our brothers and sisters in Medlow Bath, Mt Victoria and the Lower Mountains. BAG does not support any of the four RMS Upgrade options, and we therefore have a No Option stance, as each of them will change the nature of Blackheath and the Upper Mountains forever, while allowing our World Heritage Blue Mountains to become a Giant Truck Corridor.

This planned $2.5 - $4bn upgrade of the GWH is probably the greatest rort in the history of NSW. It is a politically driven pork barrel project championed by Regional Roads Minister Paul Toole to shore up flagging support for the National Party in the Central and Far West, it is a huge waste of public funds, it is a callous, temporary financial band-aid that will unnecessarily destroy homes and ruin lives, and even the truckers don’t want an upgraded GWH to be their only direct highway route through the Blue Mountains, with six school zones, towns with parallel parking directly on the highways, and dozens of speed limit changes.

For the sake of the Blackheath community, I strongly recommend to all the other Co-Design Committee members that it is imperative for the RMS take all of us representatives on a walkthrough of the 4 Upgrade Options, including the two tunnel options, in the company of Alistair Lunn, Iain Macleod and RMS road engineers, so the Committee members can see firsthand exactly how these various options will affect our community, before we can start to decide which options will make the shortlist for consideration.

Don’t Let the RMS Pave Paradise!

No Homes Lost in Blackheath!

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