by Kate Dwyer
The cutting of a ribbon strung across the latest section of the Pacific Highway upgrade was welcomed with open arms by some and spelt the end of business for others.
Federal MP Rob Oakeshott and State MP Peter Besseling performed the honours a few kilometres north of Kew, watched on by roadworkers, Pacific Highway project representatives and members of the community interest group.
South-bound traffic was allowed onto the Kew bypass on Thursday morning with the north-bound moving onto the new stretch in the afternoon.
Kew was a quiet place for the first time Friday.
“It’s like a ghost town,” said JTS Automotive’s Terry Green.
Mr Green shut operations of his service station on Friday. Three people lost their jobs.
“For the community having a main street will be better, better for safety but it’s killed business in our place. But, you know, one door closes and another opens. We’re interested in staying here for the long haul so we’re looking at options to enhance our business when all this settles down. We’ve still got the NRMA service centre. We bought one guy over from the garage and put him through TAFE. He was handy with motor cars and now he’s got a level two mechanical certificate and will join the road service.
“I know I’m not the only business to be impacted by a bypass. We’ve done the research and are confident this will work. It will be a hiccup for a while but most places, after 12 months, they’re back trading again.”
Resident, business owner and member of the highway’s community interest group Vicki Higgins was beaming as the opening took place.
“This is a great day for Kew. It’s always been on the north-south route since the horse and coach days. This is the biggest change in it’s character. It’s going to be so different,” Ms Higgins said.
“The highway was a negative for my business by making it a less pleasant place to be. For us [the bypass] will be an improvement. There are others [for whom] it won’t be. For us it’s a boom.
“As a resident I’m looking forward to the quiet. You do get used to the noise but I’ve been doing a count down to when it would stop.”
Around 15 representatives from the towns bypassed by the upgrade of the Pacific Highway made up the community interest group (CIG). Expressions of interest were sought by the Roads and Traffic Authority to form the group to act as ears and voice for their communities on bypass issues.
“Being part of the CIG has been very informative,” Ms Higgins said.
“You appreciate what goes in to building such a project and you realise why, with the small population of Australia, we can’t afford to do it all by tomorrow. The care taken in doing the job is amazing. I’ve learned heaps being involved.”
Mark Eastward, senior project manager for the RTA’s Pacific Highway office spoke at the opening, paying tribute to the workers.
“We have experienced some delays with rain but it’s a credit to everyone who worked on this project to keep on track and get this section open before Christmas,” he said.
“The work is really happening now. We are going to see a lot of changes over the next couple of months.”
For Member for Port Macquarie Peter Besseling, the opening of the Kew bypass held a personal satisfaction.
“My mother and father crashed some years ago and were driving on a dual carriageway,” Mr Besseling said at the opening ceremony.
“It was a bad accident but if the road wasn’t a dual carriageway they would have gone into oncoming traffic and they would not be here today. So for me personally this is an important step to get the highway through, although it’s been 20 years in the waiting.
“It will be a challenge but I think a good challenge for people of Kew, getting the trucks out of the town centre. We all know how scary it is when they travel at speed through the town, especially at night and when you see them on the mobile phone.
“It’s good to see trucks going onto a safer carriageway to do their job in a safer and more efficient manner.”
Member for Lyne Rob Oakeshott said the opening of the Kew bypass would bring communities closer together.
“The Pacific Highway is the principal road route between Sydney and Brisbane and is an important link for communities on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. The highway also services some of NSW’s fastest growing areas,” said Mr Oakeshott.
“The opening of the Kew Bypass will provide improved safety and a reduction in travel time for the many holiday makers who will utilise this highway over the Christmas period.”
He said people living in the upper and lower reaches of the Camden Haven would no longer have to cross the highway to visit and do business.
Mr Oakeshott said the project was part of the federal and state governments’ $3.6 billion upgrade of the Pacific Highway - the largest single investment in a road anywhere in Australia.
The former Pacific Highway, now Kew’s main street, will be named Nancy Bird Walton Drive.
The full upgrade of the Pacific Highway between Coopernook and Herons Creek is expected to be completed by mid 2010.