Peter Walsh, Marine and Layla Cotton, Marina Rockett, Cheryl Cooper, Brian Polack and Graham Stubington from the Coffs Bypass Action Group.
Peter Walsh, Marine and Layla Cotton, Marina Rockett, Cheryl Cooper, Brian Polack and Graham Stubington from the Coffs Bypass Action Group. Rachel Vercoe

Scepticism still over pledge for bypass tunnels

REVISED costings on the Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass project are tipped to rise to at least $1.5 billion following the State Government's announcement recommending that tunnels now be built along the RMS' preferred 14km route, west of Coffs Harbour.

Up until this week, the RMS concept design, comprising land bridges at Roberts Hill and Gatelys Rd and a 75-metre high cutting off Shephards Lane, was earmarked to cost $1.2 billion, with $971 million of that money coming direct from the Federal Government - a funding pledge matched by Labor.

The Advocate understands from sources close to the project, the revision of the planning process announced by Deputy Premier John Barilaro, Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser and Nationals candidate for the state seat Gurmesh Singh could see upwards of an extra $300 million in funding committed by the State Government recommending for the introduction of 'tunnels and a lower road gradient.'

The final design alterations, however, ultimately rests with the RMS project teams, the heads of the department, leading engineers and the soon-to-be formed Coffs Harbour Bypass Community Consultative Committee chaired by Kathy Jones.

Resident's lobby group The Coffs Bypass Action Group today welcomed the announcement by the State Government on Monday that tunnels are now back up for discussion, but members said they remain concerned it is simply a political announcement and not a commitment.

"In his statement, Gurmesh Singh said that all vehicles would be able to use these tunnels," CBAG chair Brian Polack said.

"That leads us to believe the Government is still talking cuttings and land bridges as we know dangerous goods, classes 1 and 2.1 cannot go through tunnels.

"We also noted that in a radio interview, Ken Kanofski, CEO of the RMS, failed to even mention tunnels until prompted by the interviewer.

"We are also looking closely at the suggested Community Consultation Committee being formed under a chair from elsewhere. Can this committee look at this and report back before the elections or is this simply a stalling tactic to ensure the final decisions come out after the elections?

Questions have been asked of government over the September bypass funding announcement where it was said the Environmental Assessment report for the project would be released by December, but now stand to be made publicly available by the RMS after the State election in March.

"CBAG will be seeking urgent discussions with the Nationals to clarify much more clearly what they are setting as the brief for the RMS in terms of the key issues of tunnel type and length, road height at key points, and gradients leading into those points," Mr Polack said.

Last night the action group heard from Cowper Independent candidate Rob Oakeshott, Greens Cowper candidate Sally Townley and Coffs Harbour state candidate Stuart Davidson, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Robyn Marchant, Animal Justice Party.

"We were thrilled to find them all 100% behind real tunnels - bored tunnels, not cut and cover - and willing to help us in our fight to get the best bypass possible for Coffs Harbour. Our community deserves it," Mr Polack said.

"We would like to acknowledge those who have worked so hard to hear this announcement including our own steering committee, the Aboriginal Land Council, Coffs Harbour City Council and community members such as Rod McKelvey and Paul Shoker."

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