A PROPOSAL to build Australia's longest road tunnel beneath the Blue Mountains could be a game changer for Bathurst and the Central West, says Bathurst MP and Regional Roads Minister Paul Toole.
Mr Toole announced on Monday morning that investigations were under way to gauge the feasibility of linking two tunnels that have already been locked in to run beneath Mount Victoria and Blackheath.
If the new plan is a goer, it would create an 11-kilometre tunnel from stretching from just east of Little Hartley to near Evans Lookout on the eastern side of Blackheath.
Mr Toole said drilling rigs now in place beside the Great Western Highway are collecting samples up to 200 metres below the surface as investigations continue.
"This could be huge for Bathurst and would make a big difference for people travelling to and from the Central West, and also in terms of business investment into the future," he said.
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"Everyone has spoken about this for decades with very little actually happening but this is now a project that's becoming a reality.
"You only have to see the congestion through Mount Victoria on a Sunday or all along the highway on a long weekend to know that it's just not good enough, and even a minor accident can close the highway for extended periods."
Mr Toole said early investigations indicated linking the tunnels could be feasible and a final determination could be made by the end of the year.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the tunnel would better connect the Central West to the east coast.
"Completing the Katoomba to Lithgow section would deliver the final stage of a 130 kilometre upgrade, delivering dual carriageway on the Great Western Highway, a multi-decade program of works, making a safer, more resilient corridor," he said.
Construction on the Great Western Highway upgrade is expected to start at Medlow Bath in 2022, with the full upgrade expected to be completed within eight to 10 years.
"Later this year, Transport for NSW will consult with the community on the entire upgrade, including the proposed Blackheath to Little Hartley tunnel," he said.
"Between now and then, residents will see plenty of investigation work going on to make sure we have all the information we need to reduce the environmental impacts of the project."
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