During an online forum last Wednesday, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service addressed long-standing questions about the status of Elliott Way.
The road provides an important link from Tumbarumba through to Cooma, but has been closed since the Dunns Road fire burned through the region in January 2020.
The repairs have been estimated at up to $12 million, with early promises that it would be reopened by May of this year.
Government delays pushed the timeframe out, with new estimates saying the road is likely to reopened this spring.
NPWS Southern Ranges Manager Ryan Petrov provided an update on the progress, beginning with an apology.
“Up front, I need to acknowledge that yes, the Elliott Way works have taken a lot longer than we expected and it’s disappointing for us, but it’s definitely more disappointing for the community,” he said.
The Elliott Way road corridor was ‘severely impacted’ by the 2019/20 Dunns Road fire on January 5-6, 2020.
Mr Petrov said the fire itself didn’t cause the major, prolonged damage to the road.
“What really smashed the Elliott Way was some follow-up rainfall events in early February and these were heavy rain events and that, combined with the fact that the fires had pretty much scoured the area of vegetation, is what caused the major issues that we’ve been dealing with for the last 18 months,” he explained.
The rains washed heavy silt and ‘significant’ debris down onto the Elliott Way, overwhelming the road’s culverts and scouring under the road pavement, making the road “extremely unstable.”
Mr Petrov shared a photograph of the level of debris which was washed onto the road, “thousands and thousands of cubic metres of rock and sediment”, which measured several feet deep across the road.
He then outlined the project’s timelines, which included a three month period from February through April 2020 for sourcing contractors, then April through June 2020 for geotechnical investigations and design work.
“The next stage is what probably disappoints me the most,” he said, pointing to a six month period from July through December 2020 for finalising the design and gathering insurance approvals and tender specifications.
“I’ve been in government for about 12 years now, but I didn’t realise how slow sometimes the wheels of bureaucracy turn,” he said.
It wasn’t until the 21st of December, 2020, that the project was put out to tender. The delay meant that contractors lost half of the year’s construction period.
The design work identified four sites for significant works, three on Elliott Way and one on Goats Ridge Way.
Site 1 required repairs to a blocked culvert on Goats Ridge Road. That work is now complete and the road has been reopened to the public.
Site 3 is located on Elliott Way and was entirely scoured and washed out, covered with debris.
Site 4 didn’t include any road damage, but required bank stabilization along the Tumut River.
Site 5 was the major site, with a blocked culvert and “a ton of material and water rushed over the road, pretty much undermining the road.”
The contracts were awarded in mid-February 2021, with contractors on the ground in March 2021, more than a year after the road was first damaged.
Local contractor McMahons Earthmoving completed the works on Site 1, while Sydney-based Earthec won the contract for Sites 3, 4 and 5.
NPWS is aiming for two key milestones: allowing public access to O’Hares campground for the October long weekend and ensuring that heavy vehicles can use the road in time for Snowy Hydro’s outage works at Tumut 2 Power Station and Tailrace from October 1-21.
“We’ve also given the contractor an ultimatum that those heavy vehicles need to be able to access that site,” he said.
The road will remain closed to the public while the heavy vehicles are passing through, but Mr Petrov said the road should be fully reopened to the public once those vehicles are no longer in the area, with some follow up works taking place later in the year, including road sealing and ongoing road corridor assessments.