Section: Port Macquarie Bypass

Very old National Route 1 signage at the junction of Pacific Hwy & Hastings River Dr. Note the old style wooden fingerboards and the trailblazer flanked on either side by some of the oldest directional signs I have ever seen. Photo taken in 1963 by Department of Main Roads.

The Port Macquarie Bypass - an unofficial name - is the 8km, single carriageway section of the Pacific Highway from the Oxley Highway to Blackmans Point Road, including the two-lane, steel truss Dennis Bridge over the Hastings River.

In August 1928, the newly-formed Main Roads Board proclaimed State Highway No. 10, which would be known as North Coast Highway until it was given the name Pacific Highway in May 1931. The original route of State Highway No. 10 saw it follow what is now part of the Oxley Highway from the northern end of Burrawan Forest Drive to the Service Centre roundabout, then along John Oxley Drive to Wrights Road, then back onto Oxley Highway into Port Macquarie. At what was then Hindman Street (now Ocean Drive), the highway turned north and then west along the present Hastings River Drive. Leaving Hastings River Drive at Hibbard, the Pacific Highway crossed the Hastings River via punt to Blackmans Point, following what is now Blackmans Point Rd to rejoin the current highway seven kilometers south of Telegraph Point.

Not only was this route quite circuitous - 22km compared to the current route which is 7km in length - it also needlessly entered the urban area of Port Macquarie which became a huge bottleneck during holiday periods. Furthermore, the highway crossed the Hastings River via two punts which were often operating at capacity, causing long delays for both northbound and southbound traffic.

As the Department of Main Roads progressed with the massive task of improving the Pacific Highway during the post-war period, the decision was made to bypass the Blackmans Point Ferry via a bridge about 4km upstream. The location was selected as it was a relatively narrow point in the river, thus requiring a shorter, cheaper span, and it also allowed the highway to be deviated around Port Macquarie in almost a straight north-south line. Construction of the steel truss bridge over the Hastings River , a design popular in the period up to the mid 1960s, along with another smaller structure over Fernbank Creek and the 7km deviation, was completed in December 1961. The bridge over the Hastings River was named “Dennis Bridge” after Spenser Dennis, the Department of Main Roads’ first bridge engineer who worked for them from 1928 to 1951 and passed away in 1960.

Since then, only minor improvements have been effected to this section of the highway, mainly to do with widening to formation to provide areas for turning traffic to do so safely. The intersection Hastings River Drive, which is located immediately south of Dennis Bridge, became a known black spot as there is a limited sight distance for traffic wishing to turn north onto the highway. During 2000 interim improvements were conducted on the intersection, involving extensive channelisation and reduction of the speed limit on the highway from 100km/h to 80km/h. However, with 13 accidents in the period 2003-2005,1 it still remains a dangerous intersection and there have been calls to the state government pressing for its upgrading. It is unlikely that further improvements will take place until the commencement of the Oxley Highway to Kempsey Upgrade project, which is currently in the route development phase. The Dennis Bridge will not be incorporated into the new dual carriageway highway as it is narrower than 10.5m (specified minimum carriageway width) and at this stage an interchange is proposed in the vicinity of Hastings River Drive , which will eliminate the safety concerns of the current intersection. However, all options cross the Hastings River floodplain for approximately 3km which will necessitate a long construction period to allow the soft alluvial soils to settle. No construction timeframe has been released.

looking south approaching Sancrox Rd. Nov 2005.
Distance sign heading south from Hastings River Dr. Nov 2005.
Northbound AD sign approaching Hastings River Dr. Note the unusual placing of the NR1 shield. Nov 2005.
Distance sign heading north from Hastings River Dr. Dennis Bridge over the Hastings River is in the background. Nov 2005.
Looking south to Dennis Bridge. The speed limit has been lowered to 80km/h to provide safrer conditions for traffic attempting to cross the highway south of the river. Nov 2005.
Looking south through Cairncross State Forest towards the Dennis Bridge. Nov 2005.

1. ‘Rob Oakshott - Urgent Attention Needed on Major Intersection’ Accessed: 6/11/2005

Last updated 9 March 2014
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