The first sod has been turned for the $342 million new Nowra bridge.
While we have seen preliminary work undertaken, the demolition of a number of houses on the northern side of Illaroo Road and the Riverhaven Motel on the southern bank of the river, the official start of construction proper is not expected until August.
And between now and then, finalised plans and designs will be completed and released.
NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole, assistant minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, Kevin Hogan, local members Gareth Ward (Kiama) and Shelley Hancock (South Coast) and Federal Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips turned the first sods for the new four-lane north-bound bridge on Friday, June 19.
The sod-turning took place on the exact alignment of the southern end of the bridge.
A history-making day for Nowra and one Mrs Hancock said the area should "celebrate and be proud of".
The schedule of work will see the final plans and designs released in the next few weeks.
By August is it anticipated work will start in earnest with rocks delivered to build a temporary platform into the southern side of the Shoalhaven River near Scenic Drive, so the new bridge structure can start.
As well as the construction of the bridge, the project will see upgrades to intersections at Bolong, Illaroo and Bridge roads.
Pleasant Way will be closed to traffic with a reconnecting road to rejoin the highway near the former speed camera location, opposite the Shoalhaven City Council administration building.
$342 million is being invested into a new bridge that will make it a safer, smoother and a more reliable journey for anyone who uses this section of the road into the future.NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole
The project will also include a dedicated left turning lane heading north from Illaroo Road and the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Illaroo Road and Fairway Drive.
The whole project is expected to be completed by 2024.
Minister Toole said it was "a special project for the wider community."
"The work that Shelley Hancock and Gareth Ward have done has ensured this project has come to fruition," he said.
"They have been fighting for a new bridge in Nowra since 2011 and both have been able to see the progress now on the Princes Highway in many parts.
"This is a project we are very proud of and one that has got the state and federal governments working together.
"$342 million is being invested into a new bridge that will make it a safer, smoother and a more reliable journey for anyone who uses this section of the road into the future.
"Eighty-five per cent of locals use this bridge every day - whether it's going to school, going to the shops but we also know for people here during the holiday period it can get quite congested.
"There are people wanting to get up and down the South Coast and this will make a big difference when it comes to traffic flow in the local area."
He said it was a big investment in NSW.
"At a time we've had drought, bushfires and a pandemic - this is going to create jobs," he said.
"Jobs and investment back into this local area."
Mrs Hancock reflected on the fact they had started talking about the future replacement of the old Nowra bridge in 2011.
"This has been a long time coming and it's very exciting," she said.
"I want to thank the community who has given us great input.
"Transport for NSW has asked for their thoughts, their considerations, ideas - they live here they know the issues of the Nowra bridge and of this community.
"And they have certainly given us a lot of input - sometimes it's been frustrating and held up the process. But we still wanted their input
"Many have said what about the bypass? - that's a separate issue - 85 per cent of local traffic crosses this river every day. They are not going to use a bypass.
Many have said what about the bypass? - that's a separate issue - 85 per cent of local traffic crosses this river every day. They are not going to use a bypass. That's not to say we are not thinking about a bypass - that will come later.South Coast MP Shelley Hancock
"That's not to say we are not thinking about a bypass - that will come later.
"But at the moment we have to replace an old bridge with a new bridge - it's [the old bridge] is very expensive to maintain, it's past its use-by date, has a high rate of crashes. We cannot continue to use it but it will be retained and become something special in terms of the heritage of Nowra.
"To what purpose is still to be decided but it will be something special for the community."
Mrs Hancock said seeing the changes when travelling into Nowra is "wonderful".
"It's great to see the work on the Berry to Bomaderry upgrade occurring, Albion Park occurring, Berry bypass finished, to the south Burrill Lake bridge finished and hopefully soon starting on the Jervis Bay Road intersection and Island Point Road, and projects further south - it's all happening."
Mr Ward said "getting things done is important".
This should be a positive day for the community of Shoalhaven. A day that should be celebrated.South Coast MP Shelley Hancock
"There will be great debates to be had in the future about the roads of this area - but what counts is results," he said.
"What people want is having adults at the table having the conversation, not making political pledges, but actually getting things done, that's what matters.
"The partnership between the state and federal government can be seen here.
"We've seen upgrades to the Princes Highway people said they would never be alive to see - would never drive on them - but you can see the evidence of the commitment we've made and the fact we are getting on with the job."
He said he looks forward to seeing the new bridge developed.
People say 'why do we need a new bridge?' This is about securing the crossing for the future. Can you imagine if we had to close the old Nowra bridge and only had three lanes servicing Nowra and Bomaderry? Imagine what would happen to traffic congestion?Kiama MP Gareth Ward
"People say 'why do we need a new bridge?' reality is the old bridge is over 130 years old - it was built as a railway bridge and was never built to withstand the 55,000 vehicles on average that cross it every day.
"This is about securing the crossing for the future.
"Can you imagine if we had to close the old Nowra bridge and only had three lanes servicing Nowra and Bomaderry?
Yes, there will be a need for future projects. Yes, Shelley and I support a future Nowra bypass but we also need to secure the crossing of this river and that's why this bridge is project is important.Kiama MP Gareth Ward
"Imagine what would happen to traffic congestion?
"Yes, there will be a need for future projects. Yes, Shelley and I support a future Nowra bypass but we also need to secure the crossing of this river and that's why this bridge is project is important."
Both Mrs Hancok and Mr Ward paid credit former Transport Minister Andrew Constance and former Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis, who also played pivotal roles in the project.
Fulton Hogan will undertake the design and construction work, with the project expected to create around 200 jobs.