The state government has announced $10.5 million in funding for a long-awaited-bypass of Byron Bay’s CBD so detailed design work can start immediately.
But the surprise announcement made in Byron Bay today (Thursday) by acting premier Andrew Stoner, roads minister Duncan Gay and Ballina MP Don Page has already met with a mixed reception.
Byron shire mayor Simon Richardson thanked the government for the ‘once in a generation’ funding and for ‘stepping up and supporting our town’.
In contrast, a residents group has labelled the funding a ‘waste of millions for a road less travelled’ and ‘a down payment on allowing the overdevelopment of our town’.
The bypass will run from the Shirley Street roundabout along Butler Street and connect to the southern end of Jonson Street via a new rail crossing and intersection at Browning Street near the Mitre 10 store.
Years of increasing traffic congestion along Ewingsdale Road into Byron Bay made the lack of a bypass a major issue for townsfolk and civic leaders sick of the traffic jams almost every day, not just during holidays and at peak hours.
No time frame has been set but but Mr Gay told media his department and council aimed to finalise plans for council’s preferred route before the end of the year.
Cr Richardson acknowledged the bypass won’t solve all of Byron Bay’s traffic problems with only one main road in and out at its northern end, but said it was ‘a crucial component to help relieve some of the traffic pain our locals endure on a regular basis’.
He said the bypass would ‘also help those who work in industrial estate and Suffolk Park plus the police and emergency services move more freely across town’.
Byron Residents’ Group spokesperson Cate Coorey said the bypass was ‘all about getting the West Byron and other large developments through by supposedly “solving” the major obstacle to development on Ewingsdale Road — the traffic nightmare’.
Of the $10.5 million in the new funding, $500,000 will go into design work including ecological and flood assessments, noise, stormwater, landscaping, pedestrian and cycling access, lighting, rail crossing and intersection plans.
A week ago, Byron Shire Council appointed a consultant to do an environmental impact study (EIS) and detailed design for the bypass.
Ms Coorey said that ‘earlier this year when council announced, without any community consultation, that it would run a bypass along Butler Street we were very alarmed, not least because everyone knows that the bypass will not alleviate traffic problems and because such an important decision required a great deal more thought and input’.
‘This bypass is the true “road less travelled” as it is not going to be used by most people coming into Byron. Only 10 per cent of the traffic using Ewingsdale Road is through traffic that is likely to use the bypass,’ she said.
‘All the studies that have been done have shown that this bypass is merely a band-aid on a gaping wound. Everybody knows this bypass will have almost no impact, not least because as soon as the hospital and new developments at Sunrise and Ewingsdale are built, any advantage gained by a bypass would be lost.
‘If the mega-development at West Byron was to go ahead, we’d have a bigger traffic nightmare.
‘Don Page has always said that he would not support the development of the mega-suburb at West Byron unless the bypass was sorted out.
‘Now he has got the cash from roads minister Duncan Gay for a useless bypass, he and council probably believe they can gleefully hand over control of this town to billionaire property developers as it is clear the community has had no say in this,’ Ms Coorey said.
Cr Richardson said that Byron Bay, as a small town with 10,000 people and one of the most visited places in Australia behind Sydney and Melbourne ‘clearly cannot work alone or undertake an infrastructure project of this size without financial support from the state’.
Ms Coorey said that three years ago, council management had dismissed the bypass proposal.
She pointed Echonetdaily to a council press release in which council’s engineering chief Phil Holloway said a study had shown ‘Byron Bay town is the destination for most vehicles and therefore improved access to, and traffic distribution within the town centre, is required. Not a bypass of it’.
In the release, Mr Holloway said ‘a true bypass would serve a minority of travellers and is hard to justify in terms of cost-to-benefit and attracting the necessary approvals and funding’.