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Region Review: NSW rolls on through COVID storm

Sydney Harbour, NSW

Western Sydney Airport Metro approved

Tunnel boring machines are expected in the ground by the end of 2023 after the Sydney Metro Western Sydney Airport project received planning approval from the NSW Government in July 2021. Major construction is scheduled to commence in the coming months, with tunnelling contracts awarded by the end of the year. 

A total of 23 km of driverless metro will service western Sydney and the new Western Sydney International Airport between St Marys Station and the future Western Sydney Aerotropolis in Bringelly. The new railway line will become the transport spine for Greater Western Sydney, connecting communities and travellers with the new Western Sydney International Airport. 

The railway line is expected to transport up to 7,740 passengers each hour in each direction and it is anticipated the new infrastructure could take 110,000 vehicles off local roads each day, significantly reducing traffic congestion. The project will support 14,000 jobs, including 250 apprentices.

Byron Bay undertakes $1.4m network upgrade

Major upgrades to the region’s stormwater drainage network commenced on Monday 9 August. The Byron Shire Council has provided a $1.4 million grant from the Australian Government’s Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program to upgrade Byron Bay’s stormwater drainage network, which covers across Lighthouse Road, Paterson Street and Kipling Street. 

“We are very excited to be delivering these critical works, which include the construction of kerb and gutter and underground stormwater drainage on Lighthouse Road,” says Byron Shire Council Director of Infrastructure Services Phil Holloway.

These works will reduce stormwater runoff that currently impacts Clarkes Beach, mitigating the impact to the environment. Mr Holloway says that once upgraded, the stormwater network will capture, detain and that runoff from the roads and surrounding properties. 

The works are expected to take four months to complete. 

The proposed Belmont desalination plant and offshore pipeline.

Planning approval granted for potential desalination plant and pipeline

In August, the New South Wales Government approved Hunter Water‘s plans for a desalination plant at Belmont as a drought response measure, with the project to include pipeline installed under the ocean floor using trenchless technology as far as 1 km offshore.

The plans are a reaction to water storage levels in the Lower Hunter, which recently reached its lowest point in nearly 40 years. The plant is designed to produce up to 30 million L of drinking water per day in response to drought.  

This follows in the wake of the most recent drought of 2019-2020, which saw the introduction of water restrictions for the first time in decades. The Hunter Water team worked closely with the NSW Government, key stakeholders, and the local community, and planning approval was issued yesterday by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. 

The desalination plant, once constructed, will receive direct ocean seawater intake by piping seawater from 1 km offshore. 

The intake structure would be installed at a depth of approximately 20 m, extending 5 m above the ocean floor, and the pipeline will be installed under the ocean floor via a trenchless tunnelling method.

Hunter Water Managing Director Darren Cleary says desalination is one of the few water supply options that is not dependent on rainfall. This would mean that with the construction of a plant, Hunter Water could continue to supply communities irrespective of changes in weather or climate. 

While the likelihood of having to construct the plant is low, it was imperative that Hunter Water sought planning approval, should it need to build in the near future. 

“Planning approval for the Belmont desalination plant gives us an additional tool to help close our supply gap during periods of drought, providing Hunter Water with the capacity to provide up to an additional 30 million L of water each day,” says Mr Cleary. 

Hunter Water says the project approval was supported by comprehensive environmental impact investigations, which evaluated the potential impacts that could be mitigated through detailed design and delivery. These assessments found that a trenchless method would have the least significant impact on marine life, while the intake would also be designed to reduce the chance of marine life being drawn into the pipeline. 

Construction of the desalination plant could take three years. 

Byron Bay, NSW
Byron Bay’s stormwater drainage network spans across Lighthouse Road, Paterson Street and Kipling Street.

Australia’s longest road tunnel canvassed

In May, the NSW Government announced it was investigating the possibility of constructing an 11 km tunnel through the Blue Mountains. The project would connect two proposed tunnels into a longer tunnel as part of the Greater Western Highway upgrade between Katoomba and Lithgow.

NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole says linking the two tunnels already determined for Blackheath and Mount Victoria would deliver a more reliable connection through the Blue Mountains.

“The NSW Government knows how important this upgrade is to the people who use the Great Western Highway every day and in improving connections between Sydney and the Central West, which is why we committed $2.5 billion to deliver a once-in-a-generation upgrade to this key corridor,” he says.

“As part of this upgrade, we’ve already committed to a 4.5 km tunnel to bypass Blackheath and a 4 km tunnel underneath Victoria Pass, one of the steepest roads in NSW. We’re now investigating connecting those two proposed tunnels into one longer tunnel. 

“This would be a history-making project, delivering Australia’s longest road tunnel and

allow motorists to avoid all the current pinch points from Blackheath in the east to Little Hartley on the western side of Victoria Pass. It will also mean less disruption for local residents and businesses during construction and a smoother, safer journey for those travelling underneath Blackheath and Mount Victoria as well as those travelling above.”

The government says 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 8 to 10 years.

Harbour project deemed national priority

In June, the proposal for a second Sydney Harbour tunnel listed as a national priority project by Infrastructure Australia. The Western Harbour Tunnel and Warringah Freeway Upgrade was added to the Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Project, with the proposal from the NSW Government involving the construction of a 6.5 km twin three-lane motorway from the Rozelle Interchange to the Warringah Freeway near North Sydney.

The Warringah Freeway between the northern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Willoughby Road would also be upgraded. Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive Romilly Madew says constructing the new tunnel would be beneficial economically and for the community. 

“The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Harbour Tunnel are critical transport links – carrying more than 250,000 vehicles each weekday as people travel into the CBD and through to other parts of the city,” she says.

“By 2031, this is expected to increase to 300,000 as Sydney’s population grows. Without an additional harbour crossing, we expect there to be additional traffic and delays around the Sydney CBD. 

Apart from impacting community access to school, work and other essential services, our 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit found that if not addressed, congestion on this part of the road network could cost the NSW economy more than $780,000 per day by 2031.

“The business case developed by the NSW Government demonstrates a wide range of benefits for both drivers and public transport users, including significant travel time savings and improvements in travel time reliability.”

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