TRAFFIC delays between Sydney and the Central West are "a national disgrace", says transport industry stalwart Graeme Burke, who has called on the government to start a tunnel between Mount Victoria and Penrith as soon as possible.
Bells Line of Road remains closed indefinitely following landslides in last month's torrential rain, and the Great Western Highway isn't coping with the traffic load.
Long queues formed in the Blue Mountains over the Easter long weekend and, in some cases, it took six hours to navigate between Sydney and Bathurst.
I don't even know how the Great Western Highway qualifies as a highway ... it's nothing more than an extension of Parramatta Road.
Even with the Easter break over, traffic congestion continues, and on Tuesday afternoon the highway was blocked both ways for hours after a truck caught fire at South Bowenfels.
Mr Burke, owner of one of the region's largest transport companies, said it beggars belief that governments from the past 50 years have failed to look at alternatives for the west.
"And look where we are now," Mr Burke said.
He said in the early 1940s, when the US sent General Douglas MacArthur to Australia to direct the country's war effort following the Japanese attack on Darwin, the first thing he did was order US troops to complete the Bells Line of Road.
Mr Burke said this enabled Sydneysiders to escape the area should the main highway be bombed.
"He also finished off Putty Road [to the north of Sydney] as a similar escape route," Mr Burke said. "Yet here we are in 2021 with one route between Sydney and the west.
He said the situation was "nothing short of an absolute national disgrace".
Mr Burke said if you're travelling from Sydney to Brisbane, it's a dual-lane carriageway for 99.9 per cent of the way.
"It's exactly the same to Melbourne. But come to the Central West, we have one lane," he said.
"I don't even know how the Great Western Highway qualifies as a highway ... it's nothing more than an extension of Parramatta Road."
Mr Burke said he spoke about the need for a tunnel through the mountains about 10 years ago.
"It's 21 nautical miles between the base of Mount Victoria and Nepean; even if we started doing one mile a year, it's better than nothing."
He said the situation the residents of the Central West are now facing simply beggars belief.
"It really is shocking, an absolute disgrace.
"I'm so cranky. The politicians have treated us, the people of the Central West, like fools.
"We've been campaigning for years for a tunnel through the mountains. They tell us it's cost-prohibitive, but look at us now. We're absolutely crippled.
"It's time to look at this.
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"The minute they finish the one in Sydney they need to bring the heavy machinery up here and start tunneling at either Nepean or Mount Victoria and don't stop until it's finished. Just get the job done.
"They need to fix this."
James Thompson, owner of Bathurst real estate agency Bathurst Realty, agreed, saying the growth of western NSW is "currently on hold".
"No one in their right mind will put up with the Great Western Highway clogged up all the time," he said.
Mr Thompson said if the situation isn't fixed, the economic repercussions for the Central West will be significant.
He said a staggering 65 per cent of real estate inquiries come from east of the city.
But he said he can see that dropping 10 to 15 per cent in the next six to 12 months if the government doesn't build an expressway or fix the Bells Line of Road.
And he said the problem with Bells Line was more than just heavy rainfall.
"The damage has been done over the last 10 to 15 years when the road hasn't been maintained," Mr Thompson said.
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