The plan to build a 'ring road' to bypass the Cessnock CBD has gained traction, with Cessnock City Council voting to reprioritise the project and seek grant funding opportunities for its concept plan.
Council resolved at last Wednesday's meeting to add the concept plan for the CBD bypasses and bring forward a review of the Cessnock LGA Traffic and Transport Strategy into its 2021-22 operational plan.
The concept plan will cost approximately $925,000, and in the event council is unable to secure grant funding, other funding options were identified - including $132,000 of repealed development contributions, and $793,000 from the profits from the sale of stage eight of Vineyard Grove Estate and council-owned land at 62-76 Cessnock Street, Aberdare.
Council will also investigate and liaise into the suitability of the Austar/South Maitland Railways railway corridor for the city's future transport needs, following the closure of Austar Coal Mine.
The ring road project would include the construction of bypasses from Bellbird to Aberdare and Nulkaba to East Cessnock, and aims to combat the traffic issues on Wollombi Road and Maitland Road, which have been compounded by a population boom on the western fringe of the LGA.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said as the city continues to experience population growth, council needs to be thinking strategically about the future.
"The creation of the Cessnock CBD Bypass will take huge investment and planning. This isn't going to be an overnight project and we need to start somewhere. This council wants to start the process now," he said.
Labor councillor Jay Suvaal - who has created a petition calling for council to make the ring road a priority - said council needs to not only improve the state of its roads, but also the way they function and address congestion.
"Wollombi Road is gridlocked a lot of the time, you're reliant on the goodwill of other motorists to get out. It is a significant safety hazard," he said.
"We need to find the money, bring it (the ring road project) forward and get it happening sooner than later."
Independent councillor Allan Stapleford urged council to get the project underway as soon as possible.
"We need to act now, or we'll be walking down Wollombi Road faster than we're driving," he said.
Independent councillor Ian Olsen was the sole opponent to the motion: "That money would be better spent on the roads we have now," he said.
Labor councillor Di Fitzgibbon said council needed to plan for the future if it had any hope of securing a grant for the project.
"It's not going to happen tomorrow, or next year, but it will never happen if we don't have a plan," she said.
The concept plans for the Cessnock CBD bypasses will form part of council's Economic Growth Agenda, a list of infrastructure priorities which was also endorsed at last week's meeting.
Upgrading Wollombi Road and Maitland Road from Bellbird to East Cessnock to a four-lane, two-way corridor; and widening Main Road to four lanes between Cliftleigh and Kurri Kurri also feature on the agenda, along with a purpose-built netball precinct at Booth Park, Kurri Kurri; construction of the Richmond Vale Rail Trail and site remediation works to resolve mining legacy issues at Richmond Main.
At the same meeting, council endorsed its wish list for the next round of the federal government's Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program.
Council will receive $2,130,798 under the third phase of the program, for projects to be complete by June 30, 2023.
It will request that $1,290,798 be allocated to road resealing projects; $800,000 go towards the Kurri Kurri CBD upgrade and $40,000 be spent on suburb entrance signs for Heddon Greta and Cliftleigh.