THE $580 million Berry Bypass has officially opened to traffic, 12 months ahead of schedule.
The bypass skirts the northern side of the Berry, taking traffic away from the town’s main street.
The bypass took its first vehicles around 8.30pm on Thursday.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward, the longtime champion of the Princes Highway upgrades, announced the road would be open for use in the early hours of Friday morning.
But he took to Facebook on Thursday evening declaring the road open and taking his followers on a drive along the new stretch of highway.
“This project has been talked about since 1955. People said it couldn’t be done,” he said.
“Well, here it is opened to traffic. We did not want to delay access for local motorists.
“This upgrade gives the people of Berry back their town and will also improve road safety and travel times for motorists and pedestrian safety within the town.”
He said as soon as he heard the road was able to be opened he pushed for it to take its first cars.
“It will make such a difference to the township of Berry to get all those vehicles off its main street,” he said.
“Especially ahead of Sunday’s expected return of thousands of holidaymakers as the school holiday break comes to an end.”
More than 6000 people took part in a recent community celebration on June 18, walking the new 610 metre Berry Bridge, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian will officially open the new section of road on Tuesday.
At the moment the bypass is just a single lane in each direction and has a speed limit of 60km/h.
Mr Ward is hopeful the bypass would have all four lanes [two in each direction] and the proposed 100km/h speed limit operating in around three weeks.
“I was extremely pleased the NSW Government has included money to build the Berry to Bomaderry upgrade of the Princes Highway in the 2017-18 State Budget,” Mr Ward said.
In some sections, preliminary works have already started, with clearing underway and fences being relocated.
“Once the Berry to Bomaderry upgrade is complete, safety and traffic efficiency will be improved with a minimum four-lane route complete between Sydney and Jervis Bay Road, south of Nowra,” he said.
“The upgrade will create more than 300 jobs during the building phase, and a number of other indirect jobs in the community.”
Mr Ward said he does not believe bypassing the town would have any negative effects on business.
“Berry is a great town and like other areas that have been bypassed it will survive,” he said.
“Many other towns that have been bypassed are flourishing. But I urge everyone to get to Berry and support the local businesses.”
He said progress also continued on the Albion Park Rail Bypass project, an extension of the M1 Princes Motorway between Yallah and Oak Flats, bypassing the highway through Albion Park Rail.
“Planning approval for the project is now targeted for late 2017 with major work still on track to start in early 2019,” Mr Ward said.