A 14 kilometre major upgrade of the Great Western Highway between Hartley and Lithgow is forward planning to cater for future needs rather than today's traffic flow, according to a concept design and environmental study released this week by Transport NSW.
It's the first stage in a grand plan to provide four lanes - and a massive tunnel - between Lithgow and Katoomba which will meet the increased levels of traffic movement within the next 15 years.
Notably, Transport NSW said the completed project should enable a travelling time of 30 minutes between the two centres, a 'saving' certain to attract renewed cynicism.
Face to face public information sessions with detailed proposals are scheduled for Lithgow's Civic Ballroom on Saturday, December 4 from 1.15pm to 3.15pm or at the old Hartley School from 5.30pm to 7.45pm Tuesday, December 7.
Roadworks scheduled to start next year are intended to create a four lane motorway from Little Hartley to the existing four lanes at Donnybrook in what is stage one of an almost $5 billion long term development jointly funded by the Commonwealth and State Governments.
At South Bowenfels, the proposal is to cut into the mountainside to avoid conflict with heritage listed properties around the Old Bathurst Road.
Further down near the top of River Lett Hill the new road is intended to go behind an important convict era inn.
River Lett Hill will undergo some significant realignment and a highway bridge will eliminate the Caves Road junction in its present form.
Other new bridges are planned at Coxs River Road and Mid Hartley Road.
Details of the environmental review and concept plan for the Katoomba to Blackheath stage - widely regarded as the most hazardous stretch on the entire length of the highway through to Bathurst- should be available for input early next year.
The final and most complex stage involving tunnels under Blackheath and from Mt Victoria to the foot of Victoria Pass will seek public support late in 2022.
According to Transport NSW. there are currently an average 11,000 vehicle movements through Lithgow each day but with anticipated growth, 'operational capacity and subsequent congestion' would be reached within 15 years.
"The upgrade program, including the proposed tunnel between Blackheath and Little Hartley could halve the projected 2036 peak travel time between Katoomba and Lithgow on busy weekends (from an hour) to 30 minutes," according to the department.
The project has been the subject of studies, consultation and bitter dispute since 2008.
The department said a corridor involving Darling Causeway and Newnes Plateau was considered but ruled out because of the Defence Department land at Marrangaroo.
Such a bypass was mooted by a lobby group at Hartley but immediately rejected by Lithgow Council and residents because of the impact on the local economy.
Other options were rejected because of more difficult terrain.
The community is invited to provide input at the sessions in coming days, at exhibitions at the Lithgow Library and Council Chambers or on forms provided in a city wide letterbox drop this week.
Of interest will be just how much of the Forty Bends section completed in recent years is to be incorporated in the new plan.
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