IT was a bittersweet moment, but one worth waiting for.
The 18-kilometre horror stretch of Pacific Highway between Port Macquarie and Kundbung officially opened to traffic on November 17.
The $820 million, three-year project is complete and the primary goal of the work is to provide motorists fatality-free travel while opening up the region to economic possibility.
Work began in 2014 with Roads and Maritime Services and Lendlease taking on the challenge of improving on one of the region’s most notorious stretches of highway.
For the construction crew of more than 250 workers, it was a momentous day tinged with some sadness. They too, among the dozen lives taken during the project, lost a colleague on this stretch of road.
“This is a mighty day for the Mid North Coast,” Mrs Pavey said, reflecting on the tragedy she has witnessed herself on the highway.
“This has been a horrible, horrible place for too many residents of our community. To see this safety, to see this dual carriageway, to see this separation is profoundly important for us as a community.
“Too many of our (police) troops have come out here and seen things they should not see.”
In the five years to 2016, there have been 54 crashes recorded on the section of the Pacific Highway from north of the intersection with Hastings River Dr to Telegraph Point.
The Oxley Highway to Kundabung section involved building 23 bridges, including across the Hastings and Wilson rivers, and interchanges at Sancrox Rd, Blackmans Point Rd and Haydons Wharf Rd.
Three years on and the opening of this section brings the duplication of 657km of Pacific Highway to 78 per cent complete, saving motorists 15 minutes between Port Macquarie and Kempsey and more than two hours between Hexham and the Queensland border.
“It is important to acknowledge that this upgrade is so important for our region not just from a safety perspective, but into the future for our economy, for jobs and for new industry,” Mrs Pavey said.
“Everyone who has worked on this project has made this possible.”
In early 2018, the remaining five kilometres of southbound road will open to become a four-lane divided road with a permanent speed limit of 110kph.
The full multi-billion dollar Pacific Highway upgrade progresses towards a 2020 completion
Federal Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker said the 23-kilometre project was progressively opening to traffic in two stages, with some traffic changes and speed restrictions remaining in place for a few months.
“This opening moves the Pacific Highway upgrade another step closer to delivering a four-lane divided road between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. This will support local farmers and freight operators, while also ensuring traffic moves smoothly throughout the year,” Mr Hartsuyker said.
Kempsey Shire Council economic sustainability manager Susannah Smith said it was a historic moment for the town.
“I’m sure that with decreased travel there will be an increase in traffic and dollars throughout our region,” she said.
“We are already seeing a marked increase in local property sales.
““The moratorium that council put in place provided an incentive for developers to start increasing housing stock.”
“We have done economic studies on the impact of the bypass on the state of local businesses located along the highway corridor and we know that over the past four-and-a-half years since the opening of the bypass that we did see an initial loss of 70 jobs.
“Today, we have a net increase of upward of 170 jobs from businesses located in the corridor and I only see that increasing.
“We recently saw another drop in unemployment for the fourth quarter in a row, so since June last year unemployment has fallen each quarter and we’re down to 6.3 or 6.5 per cent since June last year.
Ms Smith says unemployment in Kempsey should fall further with the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre at Aldavilla to set up a shopfront and recruitment centre in Kempsey, with locals to be given priority for certain job opportunities.
“We have lots of projects in the pipeline for Kempsey,” she said.
Ms Smith said it is a possibility that the reduction in travel time will see more Macleay Valley residents heading to Port Macquarie to spend their hard-earned, but she thinks both towns will experience an economic benefit as the $4 million redevelopment of Smith St and the arrival of the Kempsey Cinema begin to attract consumers to Kempsey.
“Improving accessibility and reducing travel times will work both ways,” she said.
Federal Member for Lyne David Gillespie said a tremendous amount of commitment had been invested over the last five years to make this upgrade a reality.
“The new section of road bypasses the town of Telegraph Point and is the fourth major project to open since May last year. This project has delivered a significant economic boost to our region throughout construction and will continue to do so for many years to come,” Dr Gillespie said.
NSW Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams said the community had eagerly anticipated the upgrade of this section of the Pacific Highway and the economic opportunities are now a reality.
“The economic connections in linking the south and the north are really exciting,” Mrs Williams said.
Craig Laslett, CEO of Engineering & Services, Lendlease, said his team was proud to be a part of a project that will impact the region for generations to come.
“We’re delighted to support a project that benefits the local area in ways that include a reduction in travel time between Kempsey and Port Macquarie and improved safety for drivers,” he said.
“We have also been very pleased to provide local employment opportunities. Over the life of the project we inducted more than 4,600 workers who completed almost 4 million labour hours. This includes more than 530 subcontractors, many of whom are local residents.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate the workers who delivered this impressive project, thank NSW Roads and Maritime Services for working with us to make it a success and the local population for their ongoing patience while the work was being undertaken.”