Light at the end of the tunnel for highway drivers
THERE'S light at the end of the tunnel for motorists fed up with traffic delays and road works along the Pacific Hwy from Tintenbar to Ewingsdale with the section pegged for completion before Christmas.
A milestone was reached 12 months ago when construction workers watched anxiously as tunnelling machines broke through the last remnant of rock separating the north and south ends of the St Helena tunnels.
Since then, more than 40,000 sq m of waterproofing membrane has been installed in the 434m long tunnels with at least 30,000 cubic metres of permanent concrete lining to come.
It has taken a team of about 70 people working day and night, every day, to make it happen.
Senior project manager for the Tintenbar to Ewingsdale upgrade Peter Borrelli said the majority of the civil construction was now complete and work would shift to "fitting out all the jewellery" like lighting, fans, fire safety systems and radio re-broadcast systems.
The more controversial Woolgoolga to Ballina section of the Pacific Hwy, which cuts through the habitat of a "nationally significant" koala population, is as set in concrete as the walls of the St Helena tunnels.
NSW Minister for Roads Duncan Gay said an "overwhelming number of people in the community" supported the chosen route.
"No, it's not going to change. The route we've chosen is by far the best route taking into account all the considerations of the community," he said.
Mr Gay said there was money in place for the remainder of the highway, which was scheduled for completion by 2020.
"Twenty eight people a year are dying on the Pacific Highway, so every year we are delayed, potentially we're putting an extra 28 people at risk."
The St Helena tunnels are about 434m long, 19m wide and 46m below St Helena Rd.
They can carry three lanes of traffic in each direction with the northbound tunnel to initially have two lanes and a breakdown lane.
About 100% of the earthwork, 93% of the bridges and 20% of the paving work on the Tintenbar-Ewingsdale upgrade is now complete.
Speed limits will increase to 110km/h when the upgrade is complete.