WORK will begin on the Great Western Highway upgrade early next year as planned according NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Sam Farraway.
Mr Farraway backed Deputy Premier Paul Toole's statement on Thursday confirming the upgrade, which includes a proposal for Australia's longest tunnel, will go ahead despite a report by Infrastructure NSW suggesting multi-billion dollar projects be postponed.
"It's not being removed from my agenda, as the regional roads minister," Mr Farraway said on Thursday.
Mr Farraway explained the project is being delivered in stages, with work on the eastern and western approaches to the tunnel already funded. Tenders have been called and work should begin in 2023.
"We have a joint funding arrangement [for that section] with the Commonwealth and that is locked in," Mr Farraway said.
"Earth works will start early next year. This is on the 34km of duplication."
The whole project has been costed at over $8 billion, with $4.5 billion secured under the 80 per cent 20 per cent state and federal partnership.
Mr Farraway said work on the 11km tunnel stage should begin as planned in 2024 now that detailed design was completed.
"We will keep this on our books. We are going to proceed with working with the Commonwealth on this project now," Mr Farraway said.
NSW Central Joint Organisation chair Kevin Beatty welcomed the commitment
"The consensus is out here, the longer the tunnel the better. We need that safe, swift link to Sydney," he said.
Like most of the population west of the Blue Mountains, Mr Beatty said he was angered by INSW's advice which stated the uncertainly of workforce, materials and funding made it prudent to postpone large projects including the Great Western Highway upgrade.
"We seem to be left out of all this stuff at the moment," Mr Beatty said.
He said the Great Western Highway upgrade is a necessity for the growing regions in the west.
"The tourism is quite incredible," he said. "Not to mention to make freight and transport a lot better and just make the road a whole lot safer for everybody to travel on.
"Safety is paramount but we also have tourists visits the regions and they have a great experience here. We know they have a great experience because more and more a coming but the last thing they experience is being trapped in a bottleneck to get home to Sydney. It's not good."
Mr Farraway said he would be writing to newly appointed Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Catherine King to discuss the Great Western Highway upgrade and its tunnel stage funding.
"We have time to secure the funding from the Commonwealth. We have time to go to market and industry without creating capacity issues.
"The central section won't be starting construction for a couple of years so we have time to get this right.
"I accept Infrastructure NSW has a job to do. They have recommendations but I maintain ... that this project remains a priority. [It is an] absolutely crucial project for the Central West and for the state and it can be managed and we will manage it."
"People want this built efficiently, they want it to save time and they want it built in the coming years, not the next decade."
Member for Calare Andrew Gee said it would be disappointing if the Great Western Highway tunnel project was put on the back burner.
"We've waited patiently while the Pacific Highway was completed and I think the general feeling in the western communities has been that this is our time. Let's hope that the recommendations of the Infrastructure NSW report are not followed because it's an issue that is causing confusion and concern."
On the Calare front, Mr Gee said stage one of the Dixons Long Point project, $29.8 million for the bridge crossing the river and approaches either side, was locked in and the project is out to tender.
"The $5 million for the start of stage two, the commencement of road sealing either side of the crossing, was an election commitment and I will be urging the new government to get behind it and the whole project as we want to see ongoing federal support," Mr Gee said.
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