IN a momentous day for the Upper Hunter, the New England Highway Bypass of Scone officially opened to foot traffic on Saturday morning, ten months ahead of schedule.
The finishing touches are now being made on the $137 million project, before traffic begins to flow through in the next couple of days, a move which will transform the Scone CBD.
More than 1000 people had already taken the opportunity to walk the bypass before the official opening ceremony was held at 10am.
Official guests included NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole, Federal Member for New England Barnaby Joyce, Member for Upper Hunter Michael Johnsen and Upper Hunter Shire Mayor Wayne Bedggood who were joined by Hunter Valley Police and Emergency Services representatives as well as many local community groups and visitors who were keen to be a part of the historic occasion.
The project was jointly funded by the local, state and federal governments who touted its completion during a sunny ceremony.
Minister Toole said the strong turn-out proved that there was a lot of community interest in the bypass and that it would change the way people moved in and around Scone.
"This is about providing a main street for Scone that is going to be safer, removing heavy vehicles so that they can travel in a much more timely manner," he said.
"Today, we're giving a local street back to a local community.
"This is first of three bypasses that we're delivering for the Upper Hunter and today we're all part of history."
New England MP Barnaby Joyce echoed these sentiments and was full of positivity about the impact the road would have on Scone.
He said the state and federal governments were working on a program to make sure the New England Highway is a corridor of commerce that is going to bring people to the area for years to come.
"This is what happens when you have a nation with vision," Mr Joyce said.
"This is what happens when you have a government that cares."
Mr Joyce said he didn't believe the opening of the bypass would have a negative effect on local businesses, quite the opposite in-fact.
"I think this is going to be something that brings tourists into the area," he stated.
"People have their concerns, but the cattle trucks and the transport want to go along the bypass and the people who want to see things in town will turn off and this time they will have a little bit of a capacity to stop without a truck up their clacker.
"I think this has been a great outcome for Scone and now we are able to take the next step and keep working as hard as we can for the benefit of the people of Scone."
Michael Johnsen MP said the day had been decades in the making and he thanked the community for their years of patience.
"I was talking to (well-known local) Bill Howey earlier today and he said he still had the paper work from a Scone Traffic Action group meeting in 2001," Mr Johnsen said.
"We were discussing the bypass in a lot more detail and here we are today at the point where we are only a couple of days off traffic flowing onto this bypass.
"There's been a lot of doubt amongst the community about this particular project and understandably so.
"However, the fact that we are here today should give you confidence to know that when we say we're going to do something in Scone and the Upper Hunter we're actually going to do it."
Mr Johnsen said it hasn't always been an easy time for everyone throughout the process of the development, however he believed that Scone had a very bright future with the bypass being the major initiator of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects such as the Scone Saleyards redevelopment, White Park equine arena and Scone Aviation Attraction Centre.
"This is a very key part of what Scone will look like in the years to come."
Mayor Bedggood said that while he believes there may be some detrimental effects to the Main Street initially, he believes the opening of the bypass also provides massive opportunities.
"We will be continuing talks with both levels of government with a rail overpass still on the table," he said.
"But in the mean time we also have Kelly Street to consider, a lot of plans have been made there, we've got some funding thanks to the state government, we just need a little bit more help and funding.
"However the good thing is we have got the plans and we can now move forward with that."
Mayor Bedggood concluded by thanking Daracon and praising the community for their patience.