NSW deputy premier John Barilaro has pledged that ‘rigorous’ measures will be put in place to prevent any negative environmental impact of a planned road tunnel for the Blue Mountains.
The state government has awarded a contract to AECOM Australia to build the longest road tunnel in Australia. The proposed 11-kilometre tunnel will join Blackheath and Little Hartley in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
Barilaro, who is also the minister for regional NSW, said AECOM had demonstrated experience in the environmental assessment of roads and tunnels, and worked on major infrastructure projects, including NorthConnex and the M6 Stage 1.
“[AECOM has] also demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of the unique and sensitive Blue Mountains environment and will be working to develop rigorous measures to avoid and mitigate impacts from the tunnel work,” Barilaro said.
The government announced AECOM would undertake the project following a competitive tender process, which included an environmental assessment of the works to be completed.
NSW minister for roads Paul Toole said that it was now up to the company to ensure the roadworks included ‘appropriate measures’ to the natural heritage status of the Blue Mountains.
He added that environmental investigations would also need to be conducted to confirm the feasibility of a tunnel in the proposed location and to deliver an environmental impact statement.
“We’re confident that the assessment will show the feasibility of this ambitious project and that we can build an Australian first right here in the Blue Mountains,” the minister said.
Opportunities for community consultation on the environmental impact statement will be made available in 2022. Designs of the tunnel are also still being developed, with construction scheduled to start in late 2024.
The road tunnel comprises a central component of the $4.5 billion Great Western Highway upgrade between Katoomba and Lithgow, jointly backed by the state and federal funding. The NSW government has awarded similar contracts for the east and west sections of the upgrade, which are set to get underway late next year.
“This project will transform journeys between the Central West and the East Coast, delivering a safe and more efficient journey for locals, truckies and tourists,” Barilaro said.