Transport officials say the $25 million cost of linking McCaffrey Drive with the Newcastle Inner City Bypass is not justified after again omitting a set of access ramps from the latest design.
Residents and Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils have been trying for the past four years to convince Transport for NSW to include the ramps so none of the 17,000 vehicles a day using McCaffrey Drive are forced onto Lookout Road or tempted to use back streets to access the bypass.
Transport for NSW said it had investigated north-facing ramps on both sides of the bypass after community feedback but did not include them in new designs for the $280 million project issued in July.
"The investigations found that, while design and construction of the ramps is technically possible, the low forecast use of the ramps and their cost of about $25 million to build meant they were not economically viable," a spokesperson said.
Transport officials said in 2016 that fewer than 100 cars a day would use the ramps, even though their modelling shows at least 17,000 cars will use McCaffrey Drive daily when the bypass opens.
Despite the department's forecast low use of access ramps, the TfNSW spokesperson said last week that "inclusion of ramps would also impact other traffic movements on the bypass, which would increase queuing and delay road users".
Newcastle councillors approved a motion last week which noted the revised bypass design "still does not include a left-turn ramp from McCaffrey Drive".
Deputy lord mayor Declan Clausen (Labor) said during the debate that McCaffrey Drive motorists could end up driving through the grounds of John Hunter Hospital to access the bypass.
The TfNSW spokesperson said its modelling suggested traffic would take other routes both east and west of the hospital to access the bypass at Jesmond.
"Traffic volumes on the existing route of Lookout Road, Croudace Street and Newcastle Road are predicted to drop by up to 43 per cent," the spokesperson said.
Solicitor Rob Brook, who has worked with residents to fight for access ramps, said the redesign included traffic lights on the McCaffrey Drive bridge over the bypass, a feature deleted from previous versions of the plan.
He said the lights would force a large number of northbound motorists exiting the bypass to perform a hill start if they wanted to turn right onto McCaffrey Drive and head to the city.
"I think what they've decided is modifying it in this way, making it one bridge instead of two, was probably a lot cheaper," he said.
"The new design is spruiked as an improvement, but in fact it reverts to the cheaper design previously criticised and then changed because of the congestion it will cause for Lookout Road and McCaffrey Drive users."
"The concern always seems to be about the short-term rather than having any vision for creating infrastructure that's good for the next couple of decades.
"McCaffrey Drive is a major arterial road, and the current plan is not to provide on-ramps and off-ramps to the hospital. That just shows the lack of vision, foresight and proper planning."
The TfNSW spokesperson said the "steep terrain" where ramps could be built presented a costly design challenge and would increase the project's environmental impact. Building access ramps would also mean the loss of more bushland.
TfNSW hopes to start building the long-awaited bypass early next year, beginning with site preparation at the Rankin Park end. A pedestrian and cycle bridge now under construction over Newcastle Road is due to be finished in early 2021.
Cr Clausen said TfNSW needed to change the bypass design again before work started, and independent councillor Andrea Rufo said he held "grave concerns" about the lack of direct access to McCaffrey Drive.
Cr Rufo said the community's questions had gone unanswered.
"That's not good enough ... why haven't they addressed it?" he said.
The Labor-led motion also called on TfNSW to include a dedicated rapid-transport corridor between the hospital and University of Newcastle in the bypass design.
The corridor would allow for a future light-rail, trackless tram or express bus service between the two campuses, which are poised to attract more than a billion dollars worth of infrastructure investment in the next decade.
"There is a current opportunity to ensure those two sites are well connected with a proper transport link," Cr Clausen told the meeting.
"It's really important that the decision isn't made now to preclude that forever."