THE Pacific Highway could be kilometres from Grafton after an announcement the study area for a proposed upgrade of the highway between Wells Crossing and Iluka Road has been expanded.

The extension of the study area will push the boundary of the section almost to the edge of Lake Wooloweyah and will include all of Pine Brush Forest. It will extend to just north of Pillar Valley. While no route options have been put forward at this stage of planning, the expansion of the area allows the RTA to look into a highway route which would run directly from Harwood to Wells Crossing on the eastern side of Pine Brush Forest.

This route would bypass communities on the existing highway such as Grafton, Ulmarra and Tyndale, but bring any such highway closer to communities like Gulmarrad and Pillar Valley.

Parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Roads, Eric Roozendaal, made the announcement yesterday and said the extension was a result of community consultation.

"The extension of the study area to the east allows a potential additional route option that would provide significant ecological benefits by avoiding state forest," he said.

"The RTA will continue to investigate route options in the original study area as well as the new section."

Grafton Community Liaison Group (GCLG) member Scott Flynn said any such route could have a significant impact on Grafton.

"Grafton is a significant community which would want access to the motorway, and if it is over at Pillar Valley for example, then it may not be very economical, sensible or time saving to drive east and then go north," he said.

Mr Flynn said while that could prove a disadvantage, it could free up the existing highway.

"If there is a lot of traffic being diverted that doesn't want to go to Grafton, then the existing road would not be used as much," he said.

"So if you just want to go from Grafton to Maclean, then you might not be competing with big trucks on the existing highway and that might be to the advantage of the community."

Mr Flynn said the RTA had provided a timetable whereby preferred route options for the new highway would be on public display by the middle of this year.

Tucabia CLG member and Clarence Valley councillor Kerry Lloyd said the CLG had not looked into a preferred route and was still sorting through issues raised by residents.

Cr Lloyd said a public meeting was planned for April 26 at the Tucabia Hall where members of the Tucabia CLG will meet with residents and interested parties to discuss route op- tions.

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