Ever since the first European settlers found that Sydney was hemmed in by what appeared to be an impenetrable sandstone barrier - the Blue Mountains - attempts have been made to open up a fast and safe access route to the rich lands of the west.
The Blue Mountains were first crossed in 1813 by George Blaxland, Lt. William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth. In 1814 convicts began construction of the first road accross the mountains which was subsequently completed in 1815.
The twin routes we know today - the Great Western Highway and the Bells Line of Road are both rich in history. The Great Western Highway essentially follows the route constructed in 1814 whereas the Bells Line of Road - a separate route to the north of the Grose River and which took its name from 19 year old explorer, Archibald Bell Junior - did not reach the Bathurst Plains until 1823. Ever since, the Great Western Highway has remained the dominant route despite the Bells Line of Road being more direct.
Unfortunately, neither route is able to adequently service the growing agricultural, industrial, educational, health, sport, lifestyle and tourist potential of the Central West thereby hampering growth in what is potentially the richest region of NSW.
As an interesting comparison in travel times, and highlighting the continued need to upgrade infrastructure it is noted that in a 1920's car rally, Perry Donnelly drove from Sydney to Parkes in 4 hours and 56 minutes. Despite the dramatic improvement in the quality of cars, technology, tyres and safety combined with better roads, in 2006 the NRMA reports that the travelling time from Sydney to Parkes via the Bells Line of Road is 5 hours and 8 minutes. In 86 years the trip from Sydney to Parkes has increased by 12 minutes!
Since the early days of European settlement, the Bells Line of Road has been investigated as a freight route across the Blue Mountains. With the competing local and through traffic demands along the Great Western Highway, some stakeholders in NSW's Central West have been promoting an upgraded Bells Line of Road as a strategic regional development link between that region and the Sydney metropolitan area.
History of the Group
The Bells Line Expressway Group was formed in 2000 and was originally known as the Tri-Government Blue Mountains Access Lobby Group. The Group is chaired by Hon Ian Armstrong OBE, former member of Parliament for Lachlan.
BLEG has been supported by past and present Federal and State memebers of parliament, the NSW Chamber of Commerce, NRMA, Airport & Motorway Committee, NSW Bus & Coach Association, Restaurant & Catering Association, Wine & Brandy Corporation, Coles Supermarkets, Woolworths Ltd, Agricultural Publishers Pty Ltd, NSW Agricultural Societies Council, NSW Central West Division of Practice, Australian Institute of Company Directors, various charity organisations (including Red Cross, Smith Family, St Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army), The Australian Stock Horse Society, Harness Racing NSW, Australian Hotels Association, Central NSW Tourism, Australian Constructors Association, Country Women's Association, Local Government Association of NSW and the CENTROC group of Councils.
Meetings are scheduled approximately 3 times per year and take place at the Bathurst Regional Council Chambers. Agenda items are finalised two weeks in advance.
Future of the Bells Line Expressway Group
At the Bells Line Expressway Group (BLEG) meeting held on 16 March 2016, it was resolved that the committee contact members and supporters of the organisation to determine the ongoing role of the Bells Line Expressway Group.
Since the Group's beginnings they have achieved a great detail of success in lobbying Federal and State politicians with keeping the construction of the road expressway over the Bells Line of Road corridor a priority.
In recent times, this role has been taken up by CENTROC and other Regional Organisation of Councils (ROCs) in an attempt to continue to lobby State and Federal politicians.
A questionnaire was sent to members and supporters seeking a direction on the future of the Bells Line Expressway Group. Interested parties are asked to complete the attached questionnaire and return to the Secretary prior to the 30 June 2016 so that responses may be discussed at the July committee meeting.