THE Commonwealth might be holding off on handing over its $2 billion for an upgrade to the Great Western Highway, but it has proved more forthcoming with a smaller investment in the second route over the Blue Mountains.
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The Federal Government announced last week that it would provide $100 million for safety works on Bells Line of Road, which has been beset by bushfire and flooding problems in recent years.
The money will be used for upgrades including overtaking lanes.
Last week's $100 million commitment comes almost 10 years after then-Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner announced, during a visit to Bathurst, that $43 million would be spent on upgrading Bells Line.
"It is the start of the process, at the end of which we hope to have a straighter, safer, faster dual carriageway route," Mr Stoner said at the NSW National Party conference in June 2013.
"The reality is that at the moment we [the NSW Government] don't have the funds for the dual carriageway. But this is the next best thing."
Seven overtaking lanes were built on the road during the following years.
Speaking about the latest $100 million announcement, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said that the road had "taken an absolute battering from the weather in recent years and is in desperate need of urgent safety upgrades".
Likewise, Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said the impacts of extreme weather on Bells Line had "taken a serious toll".
"The funding we're announcing today will make it safer in the short-term and restore it for the longer term," she said last week.
Bells Line was closed for almost two weeks in December 2019 as bushfires raged in the region, closed again in March 2021 for what would turn out to be weeks due to damage from heavy rain and was closed as recently as August last year due to snow and black ice.
It is also regularly closed due to accidents.
A report released mid-last year on the NSW Government's ambitious, multi-stage Great Western Highway upgrade from Lithgow to Katoomba provided an explanation for why the government wasn't considering Bells Line for some sort of upgraded highway to Sydney.
"Even if the Bells Line of Road was upgraded - and early indications suggest this would be at a cost far in excess of this [Great Western Highway] program - significant traffic volumes would still remain on the Great Western Highway," the report said.
"An upgrade of the Bells Line of Road would also potentially have a significant impact on the World Heritage Area and has extremely challenging terrain.
"Upgrading the Bells Line of Road remains a longer term priority for the NSW Government."
Infrastructure Minister Ms King and NSW Regional Roads Minister Sam Farraway have been at odds over the Commonwealth's $2 billion for two sections of the upgrade of the Great Western Highway from Lithgow to Katoomba.
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