With funding for a much-needed bypass still under review, a local council says its roads need urgent upgrades. This comes as enormous wind turbine components – some measuring up to 90m – are unable to access new renewable energy zones in regional NSW.
Muswellbrook Shire Council general manager Derek Finnigan says moving oversize, over-mass vehicles along the New England Highway, which goes through the town centre, has long been an issue for council.
“This is one of the main reasons council has been actively advocating state and federal governments for a bypass of Muswellbrook for many years,” he said.
“However, moving the enormous wind turbine components to the new renewable energy zones (REZ) is not possible. They simply cannot get through the town.”
The wind turbine blades are up to 90 metres long and almost 7 metres in diameter. They need to be transported from the Newcastle port to renewable energy projects located near Dubbo in the state’s central west and Armidale in New England.
Muswellbrook is a town in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales.
Finnigan says Muswellbrook needs a bypass, not only for oversized trucks and equipment, but also to protect the safety of the town’s residents and communities.
Transport for NSW has been in the planning stages for a future bypass of the New England Highway at Muswellbrook to improve travel times and freight efficiency.
But the $340 million needed for the project – $268.8 million of which would come from the federal government and $71.2 million from the NSW government – is still under review.
Transport for NSW (TfNSW) says it’s currently working with Energy Co NSW (EnergyCo) and the Department of Planning & Environment to understand the scheduling of renewable projects and component delivery, including options to address any constraints to transport movements between the Port of Newcastle and REZ.
“Transport for NSW is reviewing options to address constraints and pinch points along the route, such as Denman bridge and the railway underpass,” said a Transport for NSW spokesperson.
“The Muswellbrook bypass is in early planning. At this stage the bypass is going through an expression of interest process for design and construction, however is subject to the Australian Government’s Review of Infrastructure Projects.”
The New England Highway that currently passes through the centre of Muswellbrook is predominately a two-lane road, restricted by numerous intersections, varying speed limits and nearby buildings with minimal setback from the road.
Between 11,000 and 20,000 vehicles travel through the town each day, with 13 per cent of that figure being heavy vehicles.
The proposed bypass would provide a 100 kilometre per hour alternative route.
But it’s been slow to get off the ground. The preferred route corridor for the bypass was published way back in July 2018 and a preferred option for the bypass was then announced in November 2020.
As it stands, bridges, and a railway underpass with a height clearance of 5.2 metres, would have to be demolished or bypassed in order for the wind turbine components to get through.
“Transporting oversize equipment – including the wind turbine parts enroute to REZ areas in Dubbo and Armidale and massive mining equipment – requires more than just upgrades to current infrastructure,” explained Finnigan.
“The Denman and Bell Street bridges, the town’s railway underpass and a network of rural roads are not designed to withstand these loads.”
He says it’s “essential” that funding commitments for the bypass from both arms of the previous governments are honoured “to unlock access to the new renewable energy zones in regional areas”.
The Muswellbrook Council says it has already been contacted by various energy companies with requests to use local roads to transport oversize equipment.
Winterbourne Wind Farm is among those companies. It is hoping to move nearly 360 turbine blades over 18 months.
But the council says it has been advocating for this bypass long before the renewable energy zones were even announced.
The council believes the bypass would provide a number of significant benefits including improved network efficiency on the New England Highway, particularly travel times for long haul freight movements; improved safety for all road users in the town centre, particularly relating to heavy and light vehicle interactions’ and improved amenity of the Muswellbrook township.
According to Finnigan, “Government should be considering contributing payments from private energy developers – and be developing a strategic plan to spread the cost of upgrading roads and building new infrastructure,” he said.
“Muswellbrook is not within a REZ area and won’t be gaining any economic benefits from the zones. Council and ratepayers should not have to bear the pain of the impact on the shire, and none of the gain.”
Even if the Muswellbrook bypass does eventually go ahead, TfNSW says it won’t be due for completion until 2027 – subject to the review and the tender process.