THE HERALD'S OPINION: Final section of Newcastle inner-city bypass needs to be built

CHANGES: Northern end of the Rankin Park to Jesmond section of the Newcastle bypass, joining Main Road at the site of the existing roundabout with Newcastle Road. Picture: Roads and Maritime Services
CHANGES: Northern end of the Rankin Park to Jesmond section of the Newcastle bypass, joining Main Road at the site of the existing roundabout with Newcastle Road. Picture: Roads and Maritime Services

IF politicians’ outputs are measured by their public statements, then the region has a very energetic Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter in the form of the Liberal Party’s Scot MacDonald.

It is a rare working day that Mr MacDonald does not issue at least one statement to the media, and while his Labor opponents like to belittle his contributions, he appears to be doing everything he can to keep the Coalition’s flag flying in the Hunter.

On Tuesday, Mr MacDonald announced that the Australian/South African engineering consultancy Aurecon was doing some design work on part of the fifth and final stage of the Newcastle bypass, joining Rankin Park with Jesmond by going around the western side of John Hunter Hospital.

Although the accompanying image is described by Roads and Maritime Services as “indicative only”, the need to span Newcastle Road to join Main Road means the existing Jesmond roundabout – with its tall and distinctive Bunyah pine – must necessarily be replaced by a spaghetti-like arrangement of lanes.

The northern end of the bypass will take out some of Jesmond Park, but it is such a necessary piece of infrastructure that the small loss of green space will generally be viewed as an acceptable price to pay for travelling convenience.

Interestingly, despite Tuesday’s contract announcement, the overall project is yet to be fully approved: the Department of Planning and Environment’s major projects website shows the Rankin Park to Jesmond section of the Newcastle inner-city bypass at stage five of a seven-stage approvals process, with Roads and Maritime Services reviewing the 180 or so submissions it received after its environmental impact statement was exhibited in November and December 2016.

A cynic might think that a year is long enough to assess the issues arising, especially as the government has quietened the biggest outcry about the project by promising a full interchange in and out of the hospital, instead of the cost-saving half interchange originally proposed.

But as the voters of NSW are just 14 months away from an election on March 23, 2019, we can expect to hear more about the bypass – and other government projects, pledges and promises – as 2018 runs its course. Given that the first stretch opened more than 30 years ago in 1983, this final, long-awaited section of bypass cannot be finished quickly enough.

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