What the bypass opening will set in motion
THE long-awaited highway bypass will be a reality Tuesday when the first vehicles are diverted to the new 36kms stretch from Glenugie to Tyndale, thrusting the city of Grafton and village of Ulmarra into new territory.
It's an exciting new phase for the Clarence Valley and there is plenty to look forward to, as well as prepare for, as the community adjusts to having the major piece of instrastructure operating in its midst.
Like all long-time residents of the Clarence Valley, Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said despite these strange times he "can't wait" for the new section to open to traffic tomorrow.
"This will see dual carriageway right through to Coffs Harbour from my hometown of Maclean. This 36km section will shorten the trip between Glenugie and Tyndale by some 12 minutes. Bring it on," he said.
Mr Gulaptis said the Clarence Valley has been waiting decades for the highway upgrade to make it safer, smoother and easier for travellers and quieter for the towns and villages it will bypass.
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"New signs are in the process of being installed on the new motorway to entice people to visit regional communities being bypassed such as South Grafton/Grafton, Maclean and Ulmarra to ensure they continue to flourish.
"It's ironic that it's opening at a time when NSW is in lockdown and fewer people are travelling, making our roads much quieter than normal, but we will emerge from the pandemic and hit the road running. It will be such a pleasure to drive on a 21st century motorway. It is a basic but brilliant piece of infrastructure that will serve us for generations."
Federal member Kevin Hogan said this section of highway was a highly significant stretch of the upgrade - particularly for the Clarence Valley where it will cut travel time and improve safety.
"Importantly, this section, like others, will see less fatalities on our highway while getting people where they need to be sooner and safer," he said.
Mr Hogan said besides the economic benefits the upgrade brought to the Clarence while been constructed, "when opened, it brings us closer in travel to big population centres, bringing further economic benefits.
"It's certainly an exciting day in our history."
Clarence Valley Mayor Jim Simmons reiterated the economic potential the bypass will bring to this region.
"The opening of the M1 Pacific Motorway presents enormous opportunity for the whole of the Clarence Valley," he said.
"It increases our connectivity both north and south. We've seen a lot of interest from companies inquiring about Grafton due to the proximity of southeast Queensland.
"An indication of this interest is the fact that we've had record breaking development application values. As of the end of April that's sitting at more than $136 million."
Despite being some 13km from the Pacific Highway from tomorrow, Grafton and the nearby village of Ulmarra have been preparing for this moment for a long time.
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President of the Grafton Chamber of Commerce Carol Pachos said they had been working hard in anticipation.
Ms Pachos said there had been a lot of activity between the Chamber and council including public meetings, workshops, initiatives and projects.
"Some of those outcomes include fantastic pictorial signage which will soon be in position and the Vibrant Places Initiative which has been greatly successful."
She said also flagged or coming to fruition was the riverfront redevelopment and revitalisation of Prince St but was mindful that the impact of the bypass on local businesses could not be looked at in isolation given the run of challenging events they had had, including drought, bushfire and COVID-19.
"We have worked very hard over the past months providing information on business assistance as well as great ideas for working outside their old frameworks. We know of businesses that have been so proactive getting ready for the bypass by moving towards a much stronger online focus, that it also positioned them very well to cope with the coronavirus crisis."
Ulmarra businessman Steve Pickering, who co-owns the Coldstream Gallery, said the highway bypass was something the village community had been looking forward to for years.
"The residents are certainly looking forward to the reduced traffic numbers," he said, "but the businesses are a little more apprehensive as we can't really predict what will happen."
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Mr Pickering said they had been working hard towards building Ulmarra as a destination rather than a stop-off.
The plan, which includes a riverside boardwalk, tree-lined streets and wider footpaths, was formulated by the community alongside council to ensure Ulmarra continues "to be a vibrant and sustainable village into the future".
"The place is full of history and great boutiques and arts and craft stores," he said.
"Most businesses have a local, handmade vibe.
"It's a special place which is only going to keep getting better.
"We were already experiencing reduced traffic numbers so we've had a taste of what's possibly ahead but we're looking forward to seeing everyone again once travel restrictions are lifted," he said.
While some of the state's restrictions were eased on Friday, non-essential travel was still being discouraged.
Transport for NSW confirmed it would still be monitoring the effects of the new Glenugie to Tyndale bypass despite the restrictions.
"Transport for NSW can gauge the effectiveness of the traffic bypass of South Grafton by comparing the traffic volumes and mix of vehicle types before and after the bypass," director for north region Anna Zycki said.
"While COVID-19 has resulted in reduced travel, there will still be clear indications about the use of the new bypass and in particular, how it has altered heavy vehicle journeys."