Copy of News Release 800


The federal and state governments have been caught red-handed misleading the community about the Coffs Harbour Bypass and the reasons for dumping tunnels and preferring third-rate trenches.

Labor has reviewed the previously unreleased “Pacific Highway Upgrade Coffs Harbour Bypass – State significant infrastructure application report” by Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) dated May 2015 (LINK). This document was the basis of the decision by the NSW Government in 2015 to provide $200 million in funding for the project. The request for funding was based and granted on the expectation the project would include two or three tunnels. The Commonwealth Government announced a further $971 million in May 2018 for the project, bringing total funding for the project to $1.17 billion.

The RMS said on 27 September 2018 in the “Preferred concept design summary report” that this project would cost “between $1.17 billion and $1.3 billion”. (LINK) It is clear the federal and state governments have gone the “El Cheapo” route. The governments were told by RMS it could cost up to $1.3 billion but they allocated $129 million less than they were advised to allow. They have bungled the single largest infrastructure project in the history of Coffs Harbour.

Labor supports the bypassing of Coffs Harbour but it must be the right bypass. The Preferred Concept Design put forward by the federal and state governments several weeks ago is higher, uglier, noisier and dirtier than the expected design with tunnels. Labor supports the bypass with tunnels and has called on the government to include them in the design.

The people of Coffs Harbour have been misled on three counts.

First, the 2015 Report reveals that the recent justification of the NSW Minister for Roads and RMS for the trenches and not tunnels design is a complete furphy. On 24 September 2018, the NSW Minister for Roads, in Coffs Harbour, stated: “We need to have that designed in that way so that we cannot have a too long a tunnel length – making dangerous goods trucks unable to go through and unable to use the bypass. That’s at the forefront of our considerations.” (LINK)

Also on this point, RMS said in their report released on 27 September 2018: “Why are long tunnels not being built? Long tunnels at Gatelys Road and Shephards Lane have not been included in the preferred concept design. By not including long tunnels, all dangerous goods vehicles not servicing Coffs Harbour will travel on the bypass and not through Coffs Harbour residential and urban areas.” The comment by the Minister and RMS are nonsense. Their 2015 report makes no mention of this being an issue. (see below)

Second, the RMS said: “Key outcomes of the geotechnical investigations were: The geology along the bypass alignment comprises hard to very hard rock”. Their 2015 report makes no mention of this being an issue. (see below)

Third, the Minister said: “It is a very expensive, gold-plated option… This is a wonderful option.” Their 2015 report says otherwise. (see below).

In summary, the federal and state governments recently said:

  • The project can’t have tunnels because of dangerous goods trucks.
  • The project can’t have tunnels because the rock is too hard to cut through.
  • We’re getting the best available design on this route.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. According to who? Themselves.

The RMS 2015 Report covers, in detail, heavy vehicle and geological issues. At no time does the report say:

  • Heavy vehicles in tunnels are an issue (it doesn’t even include the word “dangerous” or “prohibited” anywhere in the report)
  • Geological issues prevent tunnels being built, indeed tunnels are mentioned 15 times.

Remember, this is the document State Cabinet based its decision on to grant $200m in funding for the project. This report can’t be simply dismissed. It says in its opening sentence of the report: “Roads and Maritime Services (Roads and Maritime) is seeking approval to upgrade around 14 kilometres of the Pacific Highway from south of the Englands Road roundabout to the southern end of the recently opened Sapphire to Woolgoolga upgrade project (the project).”

It also disproves the claim by the NSW Minister that this project is “gold-plated”. The 2015 report says the design with tunnels was: “The upgrade should be a sweeping, green highway providing panoramic views to the Great Dividing Range and the forests, farmlands and coastline of the Pacific Ocean; sensitively designed to fit into the landscape and be unobtrusive; and characterised by simple and refine road infrastructure.” Simple? This is hardly “gold-plated”.

Further, RMS says in its 2018 report said: “in 2034 (ten years after it opens), between 21,400 and 27,000 vehicles per day will use the bypass”. Translating figures done for the St Helena Tunnel in 2011 by the Roads and Trafic Authority (predecessor to RMS), they indicate in ten years time at the upper end of forecasts the number of dangerous goods vehicles prohibited from  using the tunnels would be 21 a day, less than one in 1000 or less than one an hour. (LINK) The 2011 report says “All dangerous goods would pass through the St Helena tunnel on the upgraded highway, with the exception of Class 1 (explosive). Class 2.1 (flammable gasses).” 

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Further, the St Helena tunnel isn’t listed in the “NSW rule: carriage of dangerous goods in prohibited areas” as contained in the NSW Road Rules. (LINK) It is understood no changes have been made to these rules since 2011; if anything, the National Road Transport Association is looking to reduce restrictions (LINK)

The state and federal governments are using the heavy vehicles and hard rock issues as a reason to dump tunnels for trenches. This is totally misleading. The truth is they under-budgeted for the project and we lose because of their mismanagement. They need to stop the spin and build the bypass with tunnels, in accordance with community wishes.

The federal and state governments have been caught red-handed skimping on this project and misleading the people of Coffs Harbour and the Mid-North Coast. They should admit to their mistake, apologise immediately and announce they will build and fund a bypass with tunnels. They know they can.




1 Introduction and 3 Project Description

Section 1.1 Overview of the project:

“The project is expected to include the following key elements:      

  • Two tunnels at the northern end of project, and a tunnel south of Coramba Road at Roberts Hill Ridge”

Point: Tunnels are explicitly mentioned.

2 Background

Section 2.3.1 Selection of the preferred project (on the expectation of tunnels)
The assessment recommended a combination of Option IS2 and IN2 as the preferred due to the options:

  • Providing the most effective physical separation from existing residential communities 

  • Least impact on planned urban development areas
  • Least traffic noise implications
  • Lowest visual and landscape impacts and provide greatest opportunity to mitigate adverse 

Point: The design with tunnels satisfies the above.

3 Project description

Section 3.1 Key project components
Tunnels: A prominent feature of the horizontal alignment of the bypass is that it passes through two major and two other substantial ridgelines as it traverses around the Coffs Harbour basin. The two major ridgelines crossed are north of Shephards Lane and west of Gatelys Road and the other substantial ridges are at the Roberts Hill Ridgeline and immediately south of Bruxner Park Road. The project is therefore expected to include two tunnels at the northern end of project, and a third tunnel (potentially a cut-and-cover tunnel) south of Coramba Road at Roberts Hill Ridge. The resulting tunnels would be relatively short at less than around 500 metres.”

Points: Tunnels are mentioned extensively and there’s no mention of trenches being an option. St Helena tunnel is 434 metres and takes most dangerous goods vehicles.

4.2 Traffic and transport

Section 4.2.1  Traffic and transport
Traffic volumes and freight transport: In 2015, traffic volumes on the Pacific Highway through the Coffs Harbour CBD were recorded to be about 32,000 vehicles per day. About 9.3 per cent of these vehicles are heavy vehicles.” (there’s no mention of dangerous goods vehicles in this section)

The Coffs Harbour section of the Pacific Highway currently experiences the following traffic issues:

  • Through traffic volumes and local traffic conflicts 

  • Composition of traffic and its mixed purposes 

  • Traffic growth and congestion 

  • Heavy traffic noise and diesel pollution 

  • Travel time and delays – including various speed zones and traffic lights
  • Road safety.“

Point: There is no mention of dangerous goods vehicles.

Section 4.2.2 “Summary of Issues”, “Construction” and “Operation”
Point: There is no mention of heavy vehicles or hard rock.

4.3 Urban design, landscape character and visual amenity

Section 4.3.3 Proposed further assessments
“There are six urban design objectives in the Framework that help to achieve this vision:

  1. Provide a flowing road alignment that is responsive and integrated with the landscape
  2. Provide a well vegetated, natural road reserve

  3. Provide an enjoyable, interesting highway

  4. Value the communities and towns along the road

  5. Provide consistency-with-variety in road elements

  6. Provide a simplified and unobtrusive road design.”

Point: The new design is hardly simplified and unobtrusive.

4.4 Noise and vibration

4.4.2 Summary of issues
“Once the project is operating new traffic noise would be introduced into areas with existing low noise background levels. It is anticipated this would be amplified to the east of the project alignment due to the topography of the Coffs Harbour Basin in reference to the location of the bypass.”

Point: This was the design with the tunnels.

4.5 Biodiversity

4.5.2 Summary of issues
“There will be potential impacts on habitat for threatened species resulting from clearing and grubbing of the site, including Koalas (listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 and Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, due to the project footprint traversing the areas containing known Koala habitat and Koala corridors”

Point: This may trigger the need for approval by the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment under the EPBC Act.

A potential for increased vehicle strikes to native fauna due to the project traversing across existing fauna corridors. The use of tunnels, including the cut and cover tunnel proposed at Roberts Hill Ridge, will minimise this risk.”

Point: Tunnels are mentioned again!

4.6 Aboriginal cultural heritage

4.6.1 Overview
“The Aboriginal heritage assessment identified that the northern end of the study area is of Aboriginal social value.
Construction: Potential direct and indirect impacts on unknown or unidentified archaeological items that may be uncovered, disturbed, damaged or destroyed during construction work. It is considered possible that previously unidentified cultural heritage sites or artefacts may exist within the study area.
Operation: The cultural value of the study area to Aboriginal people has not been determined to date There could be potential indirect impacts to Aboriginal cultural heritage values due to the placement of the project within the landscape, and the visual impact this may have on areas identified as having cultural significance.”

Point: They have identified where the trenches instead of tunnels are going to be as being of Aboriginal social value.

4.7 Geology, soils and water quality

Point: There is no mention of hard rocks being an impediment to the project.

4.7.2 Summary of issues (Construction and operation)
Point: There is no mention of hard rocks being an impediment to the project.

Updated: 11 October 2018