Melinda Pavey at the opening of the Woolgoolga to Halfway Creek section of the Pacific highway upgrade last year.
Melinda Pavey at the opening of the Woolgoolga to Halfway Creek section of the Pacific highway upgrade last year. Trevor Veale

Not a 'cheapskate' bypass says minister

CONCEPT designs for the Coffs Harbour bypass will be released later this month.

The Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight Melinda Pavey has confirmed the designs will be released for public comment and a process of community consultation will take place.

Ms Pavey did not return the Advocate's call but a spokesperson for the minister confirmed: 'The project team will hold two information sessions. We will also meet with directly impacted land owners and other key stakeholders. Residents will be able to view the preferred concept design at the information sessions or online, where they will be able to leave comments.'

In recent weeks the Roads and Maritime Service (RMS) has refused to answer the Advocate's questions in relation to the bypass or the 'ring road' as some in the community are starting to refer to it as.

As the minister responsible for roads we asked Ms Pavey if she thought this was acceptable, but she refused to respond to this question.

This lack of transparency has heightened speculation that Coffs Harbour is facing the prospect of a 'cheapskate' bypass rather than the one we have waited so long for.

Ms Pavey has dismissed such claims saying on local radio: "they are just cheap shots from the back pews" and that $1.2billion is not a cheap way out, adding that significant progress has already been made including the purchase of 50 per cent of properties along the route.

"Peripheral political point-scoring commentary surrounding the bypass is just that. The community just wants me to get on with the job, and that's what I am doing," the minister's spokesperson said on her behalf.

There's no doubt the community want to see it happen but some have pointed out that if it's worth having, it's worth waiting for.

"Delay it until a real bypass can be done properly and don't settle for the cheapskate way out," wrote Marina Rockett in a letter to the editor.

Former deputy mayor Rod McKelvey has also stated that it may be best to wait. As a resident of the northern beaches he took a keen interest in the bypass process along the Sapphire to Woolgoolga section. He has repeatedly warned that Coffs Harbour could be looking at a "noisy, polluting, visual eyesore".

"Dare I say if the money is not made available to do this job properly, it may be better to delay its construction until the proper funding is available, because the alternative will be a worse nightmare than what we have now, a nightmare we will be stuck with for a very long time," he said.

The 'cheapskate' speculation has come largely from the uncertainty over whether or not there will be tunnels or cuttings along the 14km route with some saying tunnels won't be able to take some large trucks carrying dangerous goods.

"It's worth remembering that Dangerous goods Class 1 and 2:1 are estimated at only making up 7 per cent of all heavy vehicles using the Pacific Highway. Meaning 93 per cent or more of the heavy vehicles using the highway can use tunnels," according to Mr McKelvey.

Ms Pavey has confirmed that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is on track for release mid-December and: "once environmental approval is achieved we can commence tenders for construction. This is targeted to happen in 2019."