Gladys Berejiklian says Nelson Bay Road could be dual carriageway from Williamtown to Bobs Farm within three years after she pledged another $205 million for the project on Tuesday.
The premier’s pre-election promise in the Lower Hunter’s most marginal seat follows a similar commitment by former premier Mike Baird just before voters went to the polls in March 2015.
Mr Baird said in 2015 that a Coalition government would “invest $70 million in full duplication from Stockton Bridge to Anna Bay” and that work would “start in the next term of government”.
That deadline has all but come and gone without a shovel hitting the dirt, but Ms Berejiklian said in Salt Ash on Tuesday that her government wanted to “make sure we had enough funds there to start the project and complete the project”.
“The best advice I have from RMS is they can start the work this year and it will take about two years to complete,” she said.
She thanked residents for their “patience” and their “confidence in us, because when we say we’re going to do something, we will do it”.
Port Stephens Labor MP Kate Washington, who is facing a challenge in March from Liberal candidate Jaimie Abbott, said the government could not be trusted after failing to deliver on Mr Baird’s promise.
“You can’t buy a seat with fake promises,” she said.
Ms Washington said the premier’s timetable for completing the project was either not realistic or not genuine.
Ms Berejiklian said the project covered 18km of Nelson Bay Road.
Her office clarified that this referred to about 11km of divided dual carriageway between Williamtown and the divided road at Bobs Farm and early planning for the Fern Bay to Williamtown section of the road.
The $275 million would fully fund the Williamtown to Bobs Farm construction, including “early work on intersection upgrades at Medowie Road and Lemon Tree Passage Road”.
Most of the Williamtown to Bobs Farm section lies within the Environment Protection Authority’s “secondary management zone” for PFAS contamination around the Williamtown RAAF base.
Ms Berejiklian’s office said Roads and Maritime Services was aware PFAS contamination was one of the complexities of the project and this would need to be “assessed further during project development”.
The latest upgrades will leave about half of Nelson Bay Road single lane, including the 6km stretch from Fern Bay to Williamtown that falls outside the Port Stephens electorate.
Ms Berejiklian also attended a businesswomen’s lunch in Nelson Bay on Tuesday and engaged in a meet-and-greet session in the middle of Raymond Terrace.
Her presence and a visit by Police Minister Troy Grant at Lemon Tree Passage on Monday demonstrate how serious the Liberals are about reclaiming Port Stephens on March 23.
Ms Washington holds the seat with a margin of 4.7 per cent, and the Liberals regard it as winnable after their 2015 campaign was cruelled when two-term incumbent Craig Baumann withdrew over the ICAC investigation into illegal political donations.
Tuesday’s announcement by Ms Berejiklian and Ms Abbott comes five days after opposition leader Michael Daley visited Medowie and hinted that Labor would also commit to fixing the road.
Ms Washington, accompanied by a group of health workers, launched a crowd-funding campaign on Tuesday for an anti-government billboard on Nelson Bay Road.
The six-metre by three-metre sign will read “Schools and Hospitals before Sydney Stadiums”, echoing Labor’s main campaign slogan.
Meanwhile, Ms Berejiklian dodged questions over when the Liberals would nominate candidates in the other seven Lower Hunter electorates.
The Newcastle Herald reported on Tuesday that Ms Abbott was the only endorsed candidate in the Lower Hunter, leaving Newcastle, Wallsend, Lake Macquarie, Swansea, Charlestown, Maitland and Cessnock unfilled.
Asked when voters would find out who their Liberal candidate would be, Ms Berejiklian said: “I’m really enthused by the level of interest we have in people who want to support what my government is doing.”
She said she was proud to lead a government which had “invested more in this region than any government in the history of the state”.
Asked whether she felt the government had received enough credit for its infrastructure spending in the region, she said: “I don’t ever expect pats on the back.
“What I do want, though, is the satisfaction that we’re doing what’s in the best interests of the community. That’s what motivates me every day.
“It’s up to the public to decide whether we’ve done enough.”