Government shelved Testers Hollow upgrades in 2015

Testers Hollow after the January 2016 storm.
Testers Hollow after the January 2016 storm.

The state government decided it wasn’t necessary to flood-proof Testers Hollow three months before the April super storm, documents show.

The opposition has renewed calls for the government to find a solution to flood problems at the troubled spot. Meanwhile, the government says its investigation into the problems is ongoing.

Internal Transport for NSW and Roads and Maritime Services documents, obtained by Labor under freedom of information laws, show that the Roads and Freight Minister at the time Duncan Gay approved a request to shelve flood mitigation at Testers Hollow in January, 2015.

In an internal memo to Mr Gay, the then RMS chief executive Peter Duncan argued against flood mitigation work at the site because the cost would have outweighed the benefit of three options put forward by firm Worley Parsons.

The options included raising the road for about $7.3 million to provide protection from a one in 12 year flood, $8.6 million to guard against a one in 20 year inundation or $18 million to stave off a one in 100 year incident.

“If Main Road 195 (Cessnock Road) is closed at Testers Hollow due to flooding, the Hunter Expressway provides a flood-free route for motorists travelling from Kurri Kurri to Maitland,” the memo noted. 

Three months after Mr Gay shelved the Testers Hollow upgrades the April super storm hit, the road was closed for 17 days and Gillieston Heights was isolated for five days.  

A subsequent, undated, draft memo from RMS called for “a whole of government approach” to the isolation issue.

A spokesperson for Roads and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey said this week RMS was continuing its investigations “to determine the suitability and feasibility of potential upgrade options”. 

He said RMS was working with all levels of government and other state agencies to develop a “long-term approach”. This included a review of Maitland council’s flood study, flood modelling and analysis, a detailed survey of the road and an analysis of traffic information.

The federal government has promised $15 million to provide a solution at Testers Hollow but the RMS, a state agency, has to demonstrate a business case to access the money.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said there were social and economic costs when Testers Hollow was flooded that were not good for the economic development of Maitland.

“It’s not good for economic development in Maitland to have one of the main arterial roads that connects with the Hunter Expressway cut for weeks at a time,” she said.

"We’re in a different environment now, in terms of isolation and flooding.

“People have higher expectations, they need to go to work, they need to finish their HSC, they need to go to the doctors.”

Opposition spokesperson for Roads and Freight Jodi McKay said another business case should be conducted that also considered the impacts of isolation and the costs of government services and agencies called in to help during floods.

"Worley Parsons have looked at this purely from an economic perspective, and of course it’s going to have a low BCR,” she said.

“But this is a project that is not economic, it’s about the isolation of a community and the loss of life.”

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