A NEW era is dawning for the riverside towns of Woodburn, Broadwater and Wardell as construction of the new Pacific Hwy bypass looms.
At a public meeting on Thursday night at Evans Head, residents were told now was the time to start thinking about that future, even though the new bypass could be years away.
Bob Higgins, from the Grafton office of Roads and Maritime Services, told the assembled crowd of nearly 40 people that, based on history, those towns and villages which anticipated what business would be like after a new bypass generally fared better than those that left it up to fate.
"It is all about timing on how well you can capitalise from the bypass," he said.
Richmond Valley Council manager John Walker said his council was "open for business" and was eager to play a part in promoting the towns but needed on-going, sustained interest from community drivers.
"We need strong chambers of commerce," he said.
"We need voices, we need points of contact. The message we are getting is that it is never too early to plan for a bypass."
Mr Higgins would not be drawn on when the bypass would start, saying only that previous projects must be completed first - including Ballina to the border, Raleigh to Woolgoolga and Port Macquarie to Raleigh.
Current government funding includes $600m set aside to prepare for the 155km Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade and Mr Higgins said that money would be spent buying the remaining 200 properties that lie in the way - 200 have already been purchased - carrying out geotechnical surveys, base line environmental studies and pre-loading soft soils such as those found adjacent to Tuckombil Canal.
Mr Higgins told the assembled group business could expect a surge during construction and, of course, a downturn right after.
Between 3500 and 4500 workers would be associated with the highway project over a three to five year period. Between 30-40% could be local residents employed on the project.
With large service centres planned for Ballina and Maclean, there will be no more reason to stop for fuel at Woodburn, so the town will have to re-invent itself.
"After the high of the construction phase there is a slump," he said.
"Where to go from there is up to the community."