Mine boom behind Hunter traffic snarls

THE Hunter’s mining boom has created one of the state’s worst traffic snarls along the New England Highway between Branxton and Singleton.

Traffic data shows a similar number of vehicles now pass through the towns during peak periods as travel on Sydney’s arterial roads.

But while the region’s mines are contributing billions of dollars to the state’s coffers, many Upper Hunter roads resemble goat tracks compared to those in the state’s capital.

Roads and Maritime Services traffic surveys show a 36per cent increase in traffic travelling on George Street, Singleton, between 7am and 8am and 46per cent increase between 5pm and 6pm between 2001 and 2010.

The outdated figures do not take into account the impact of the enormous growth in mining-related employment which has occurred in the past 18 months.

‘‘You just have to look at the traffic going through the town to know they (the figures) are not right,’’ Singleton mayor Sue Moore said.

Traffic starts building up around Branxton about 5am as miners from as far away as Newcastle, Port Stephens and the Central Coast head up the highway to work in the region’s mines.

By 7am, the road between Branxton and Singleton is bumper-to-bumper. It is a similar story in the evenings as thousands of workers converge on the highway after 12-hour shifts.

‘‘The other issue is that people are trying to beat the traffic snarl by travelling along the back roads that are not built for the volume of traffic that is going on it,’’ Singleton Chamber of Commerce secretary Gill Eason said.

‘‘They are going at ridiculous speeds and overtaking in places where they shouldn’t so they can get to work on time.’’

Many civic leaders feel that unless significant infrastructure planning and investment occurs, the shire’s roads will collapse under the strain of the mining boom’s growth.

The proposed Singleton bypass, on the drawing board for more than a decade, is at the top of the town’s infrastructure wishlist.

‘‘We need to at least get the corridor marked so we can plan for the future,’ Ms Eason said.

Ms Eason discussed the need for the project with Infrastructure NSW chief executive officer Paul Broad recently.

Mr Broad told the Newcastle Herald it was obvious that Hunter communities needed appropriate infrastructure to cope with the effects of the mining boom.

‘‘We can’t just sit on our hands, we need to make sure communities are protected,’’ he said. ‘‘We are working on several submissions to the federal government and Hunter communities are at the top of our list.’’

Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said the federal government’s mining tax would provide funding for much-needed projects in the region.

‘‘Regardless of the Hunter Expressway, the traffic will continue to increase as the mining industry expands further. This is why we need the mining tax,’’ he said.

‘‘While we have become the dominant funder of these big projects, we are critically dependent on the state agencies to forward submissions. I certainly welcome Paul Broad’s interest.’’

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