Construction of the Bells Line Expressway would deliver a vast array of practical benefits directly impacting virtually every NSW resident and visitor while at the same time challenging some significant socio-economic reforms that require urgent government attention. Major benefits include:
The Bells Line Expressway will provide a much safer road than the Great Western Highway and current Bells Line of Road due to:
• Decreased driver fatigue as a result of a reduction in travel time
• Reduction in the number and sharpness of bends
• The provision of four lanes rather than two allowing for safe overtaking opportunities
• Reduced congestion and road gradients meaning faster traffic flow with fewer off ramps
• Greatly reduced number of speed variations (there are currently 19 speed variations on the Bells Line of Road).
According to the NRMA the Great Western Highway and the Bells Line of Road are amongst the most dangerous highways in the state per kilometre of road.
Motorists on the Bells Line of Road are "unable to overtake slower vehicles for over 80% of the route, unless they attempt dangerous overtaking manoeuvres at locations where sight distance is poor". Studies have shown that the Bells Line of Road currently has up to 26 kms where motorists are without a safe overtaking opportunity in either direction.
The Bells Line Expressway is planned to be a four lane motorway, eliminating the current issues of overtaking on the Bells Line of Road.
Accident cost savings have been estimated to be in the vicinity of $2.7 million per annum (WRI, 2005), while Sinclair Knight Merz (2004) predict average annual savings on vehicle operating costs and travel time to be $9.9 million per annum.
Accident costs on Australian roads significantly impact the economy. An AusRAP report for the period 2005-09 found that:
- 4 people are killed and 90 people are seriously injured on Australia's roads every day
- Road crashes cost the Australian community $74 million every day
- 39 people lost their lives on the Great Western and Mitchell Highways
These statistics and the report illustrates the lack of funding for western NSW highways. Good roads are becoming average and bad roads are becoming worse.
Currently, each year, road trauma on the Great Western Highway costs on average $69.6 million. The total cost of road crashes over the five-year period from 2006-2010 was $347.9 million. Between Katoomba and Mt Victoria on the Great Western Highway for the period July 2007 to June 2012 there were 145 crashes, two of which were fatal and 67 resulting in injury.
The Bells Line of Road experiences around twice the typical rates of crashes as other roads in NSW. For the period from 2006 to 2010 , there were 9 fatalities and 466 crashes. Below is a table illustrating the number of crashes on the Bells Line of Road from 2006 to 2010.
Clearly, with both roads across the Blue Mountains experiencing such high rates of crashes compared to other roads in NSW, major projects need to be undertaken to combat the expensive cost of crashes and more seriously, loss of life. The Expressway has the potential to reduce the number of crashes that occur when people travel to or across the Blue Mountains by providing a safe, divided roadway with fewer sharp bends, reduced congestion on the Great Western Highway and decreased travel time reducing driver fatigue.
Reduced Travel Times
In 2005, the average travel time from the M7 to Lithgow was 85 minutes on the Great Western Highway and 70 minutes on the Bells Line of Road. Once the Bells Line Expressway is completed, the crossing of the Blue Mountains will be cut by approximately 35 minutes, with huge savings in fuel bills, reduced wear on vehicles and improved safety.
Shorter travel times between Sydney and Central NSW will make it viable to commute to work in Sydney, a trend evidenced in the Hunter Region. It is anticipated that more people will move to the region to make advantage of affordable housing, attractiveness of the location and accessibility to Sydney.
Economic Boost to the Central West
The potential for growth in the Central West region is enormous. Improved transport infrastructure increases the attractiveness of the region and makes it a viable location for production and distribution facilities.
Following the completion of the Expressway, it is estimated that traffic volumes along the route could almost triple. By the end of the first five years of operation, it is expected the Central West will have experienced:
• Total economic growth of $268 million (4.5%) in gross regional product (GRP)
• $122 million in household income (3.7%)
• 3,062 full time equivalent jobs (3.9%)
Significant road infrastructure such as the Bells Line Expressway can increase productivity, provide greater flexibility, facilitate innovation, reduce costs, improve efficiency and provide firms with a competitive advantage. Major increases in industry expansion are anticipated in manufacturing, transport and fresh market horticulture (WRI, 2005).
Tourism development as a result of the upgrading of the Bells Line of Road will be most marked in areas that will become viable as day trips and short break holidays. Reduced travel time across the Blue Mountains will make it easier to get to Central and Western NSW and will attract domestic self-drive tourists from Sydney, boosting these regional economies.
Accommodate Population Growth
Sydney's population is rapidly increasingly with an expected growth of 1.6 million people in the next 20 years. By 2031, NSW is expected grow by 2 million, taking the state population to 9.2 million, with 5.9 million of those people expected to live in Sydney. Increased population, higher urban densities and growing passenger and freight levels will add to the already soaring levels of congestion in Sydney.
The Bells Line Expressway will provide an alternative location for the increasing population of NSW, allowing those migrating to the Central West (and further west) to retain connections to the Sydney region through improved transport links.
See Information Sheet 1 for more information about accommodating future population growth.
The Roads & Maritime Services (RMS) states that road function should address the needs of mobility (the movement of people and goods) and access (the ability to enter/exit land use adjacent to the road).
The Great Western Highway is currently a mixed function road, providing both mobility and access to major Blue Mountains centres. The Bells Line of Road is more focused on mobility.
A significant amount of traffic, that would normally be expected to use Bells Line of Road in its mobility function, is diverted to the Great Western Highway creating traffic flows well beyond its capacity. Upgrading the existing Bells Line of Road would provide two access roads over the Blue Mountains and provide little, if any, relief for the already over stretched and hugely expensive Great Western Highway.
The RMS should apply its standard policy, one road for access and one for mobility, to the west. Building the Expressway will provide the same standard of mobility to the west that is currently enjoyed to the north, south west and south of Sydney.
Information Sheet 2 provides more information about the debate to upgrade the existing road or build a new expressway.
The NSW city of Parkes is positioned to become the pre-eminent transport hub on the inland corridors running between Melbourne and Brisbane and west to Perth. Additionally, Parkes is located on the eastern edge of the Murray Darling Basin. The Bells Line Expressway will provide a vital link to this inland transport corridor and the Murray Darling Basin.
The Murray Darling Basin, and the efficient transport of produce from it, is a critical component in maintaining Australia's food security. The Basin produces $15 billion worth of produce annually (39% of Australia's total agricultural production). Currently there is not efficient transport access to Sydney from the strategically and economically significant Parkes region and Murray Darling Basin.
Building the Bells Line Expressway will provide a high capacity transport route from Lithgow to Sydney improving transport times and costs from the Parkes region and the inland transport corridor while diverting much freight traffic from Australia's East Coast between Melbourne and Brisbane to the inland transport corridor.
See Information Sheet 4 for more information about how the Bells Line Expressway can positively impact the inland transport corridor.
The current Bells Line of Road and Great Western Highway are not designed for heavy truck use. Neither road is currently approved for B-Double trucks longer than 19 metres and with a total mass greater than 50 tonnes. As a result, there are no direct routes for B-doubles from the Central West of NSW to Sydney via the Blue Mountains.
The proposal for the new Expressway would make the Bells Line of Road suitable for B-Double trucks with reduced gradients and multiple lanes in either direction.
Furthermore, constraints on rail freight over the Blue Mountains are becoming tighter with increasing passenger services. If these rail constraints are not alleviated, the importance of the Bells Line of Road will surely be reinforced as a secondary route for freight movements across the Mountains.
Sydney's Food Supply
Sydney Basin agriculture is declining due to housing development. This could have major consequences for food production in the Sydney region. The number of vegetable farms could fall by more than 50% and the area producing greenhouse vegetables could fall by as much as 60%.
Building the Bells Line Expressway will alleviate pressure on the important agricultural lands of the Sydney Basin by encouraging a greater migration of people and businesses from Sydney to regional centres over the Blue Mountains and provide an efficient access route to agricultural precincts to the west of Sydney.
Refer to Information Sheet 3 for information about securing Sydney's food supply.
Strengthen the Economy
The Central West of NSW makes a significant contribution to the State economy. In total, Western NSW's mining sector contributes almost 11% of the State's exports. In 2008-09, the Central West region produced 15% of the State's total raw coal production and 18% of the State's total saleable coal production. In 2008-09, the Western region of NSW accounted for almost one quarter of the State's agricultural production, with almost 45% of the gross value of wheat production in NSW produced in the Western region.
Building the Bells Line Expressway will increase opportunities to expand the economic contribution of Central and Western NSW and ensure that the workforce required to enlarge the significant sectors in Western NSW can readily maintain strong links with Sydney.
See Information Sheet 5 for more information about Central and Western NSW agricultural and mining contribution to the economy.
The initial impact on existing businesses in the region is expected to be concentrated in those regions closest to Sydney and taper off to the west. The most significant increases in industry expansion are anticipated in manufacturing, transport and fresh market horticulture.
Business opportunities would open greatly if ease of access to Central and Western NSW was improved with the Bells Line Expressway. Manufacturing, agriculture, factories and similar could open in the region with quick and efficient transport to Sydney over the Blue Mountains.
Relief for Sydney
With Sydney's population growing rapidly, the Bells Line Expressway will allow the development of new population expansion areas to ensure people have access to affordable and enjoyable lifestyles. It will allow residents in areas like Lithgow to travel quickly and safely to jobs in Sydney's far west.
The Expressway will provide Sydney with a range of benefits including eased traffic congestion, improved air quality, fresh produce supply, access to outdoor recreational space, reduced land pressure and cost of living and improved market competitiveness.
The Expressway would also provide a pressure valve for the Hawkesbury/Windsor region, allowing development to flow across the Blue Mountains and preserving the area's unique semi-rural lifestyle.
Sydney's water level is uncertain with the population consuming water at an unsustainable level. The outlook for Sydney's water is relatively bleak for the future with uncertainty of water security, drought conditions and climate change. If population and economic activity could be spread outside the Sydney basin, it would significantly reduce the demand for water in the Sydney catchment.
Flood Free Crossing
The proposed Bells Line Expressway could save lives by providing the first ever flood free escape route for people living in the Hawkesbury/Windsor region. The Expressway would connect with the M7 near Quakers Hill and continue onto Lithgow, with a new flood proof bridge to be constructed across the Hawkesbury River near Windsor. The bridge would provide a vital escape route for residents living in this flood prone region and will complement the latest flood management and evacuation strategies.
Addressing Australia's Infrastructure Investment Imbalance
Of all types of public infrastructure investment, core investment such as the construction and improvement of highways impact the most significantly on output growth and productivity (Gillen, 1996 as cited in WRI, 2005).
"Transport infrastructure is one of the most significant influences on the development of tourism in a region" (Palhares, 2003 as cited in WRI, 2005) with the CENTROC region recording an average of 93% of domestic tourism attributable to self-drive (Environmetrics, 2003 as cited in WRI, 2005).
According to the Committee for Economic Development Australia (2005) no Australian roads are currently classified "A" (Australia's infrastructure meets future needs) and very few are classified "B" (Australia's infrastructure meets current needs). This investment imbalance needs to be urgently addressed to avoid serious long term impacts on the State and Federal economies.
Bridge the Cultural Divide
Around one third of Sydney's residents were born overseas, this compares to only 10% of residents across the rest of NSW. "The concentration of a large number of immigrants with little to no chance to experience the traditional Australian way of life is giving Sydney an international culture, far removed from the traditional Australian heritage" (WRI, March 2006). Improved access between Sydney and western regional NSW will increase inland travel and promote increased tolerance and appreciation of cultural diversity.
As shown in the numerous points above, road infrastructure such as the Bells Line Expressway can increase productivity, provide greater flexibility, facilitate innovation, reduce costs, improve efficiency, provide firms with a competitive advantage, facilitiate state growth, alleviate pressure on Sydney and relieve safety and congestion on the Great Western Highway. This makes the Bells Line Expressway project an infrastructure project of national importance. This expressway has the potential to become a landmark of NSW and Australia.
See the About the Project page for information about the proposed Bells Line Expressway.