Great Western Highway holiday congestion
The Great Western Highway through the Blue Mountains can experience significant congestion during long weekends and holiday periods. Find out how traffic congestion is managed.
Transport for NSW is working to help manage this congestion to minimise your travel delays and keep everyone safe on their journey through the mountains.
When vehicles begin to queue eastbound at Mount Victoria, a traffic management plan is put in place to prevent breakdowns on Victoria Pass.
Motorists are held at Hartley, the base of Victoria Pass, to prevent traffic congestion, breakdowns, and start/stop movement up the Pass. Vehicles are then released in small groups, allowing them to travel up the Pass in one smooth movement, and preventing delays due to breakdown.
Congestion on the Great Western Highway
At the end of school holidays, long weekends and special events, a significant amount of traffic travels east on the Great Western Highway towards Sydney.
This generally causes increased congestion, traffic queues and travel delays. Queues begin at the traffic lights in Blackheath, and build back towards the west.
Traffic incidents or road repairs can also lead to an increase in congestion.
In these situations, traffic queues can begin to build down Victoria Pass.
On the 2021 Easter long weekend, motorists experienced delays in excess of two hours between Lithgow and Blackheath.
Victoria Pass is part of the Great Western Highway, connecting the Hartley Valley to the upper Blue Mountains.
It is the steepest Highway in NSW, and part of the only major road within 50km of Greater Sydney with sections of just one lane in either direction.
The stone-walled Victoria Pass Causeway, built by convict labour between 1830 and 1838, is of state heritage significance. You can find out more about its heritage significance.
As traffic travels slowly up Victoria Pass, stopping and starting, vehicles can overheat and break down.
Tow trucks and emergency vehicles must navigate the congestion to access breakdowns and accidents.
These factors all add to congestion and create longer delays for all motorists.
On the final day of the 2020 June long weekend 32 vehicles broke down or overheated on Victoria Pass.
Why is traffic held at the bottom of Victoria Pass?
Transport for NSW is working to make journeys safer and minimise travel time delays during peak congestion periods.
Staff monitor traffic on the Great Western Highway and when vehicles begin to queue at Mount Victoria, the following traffic management plan is put into place:
- Motorists are held at the base of Victoria Pass.
- Once there is enough storage room at the top of the Pass, vehicles are released up in groups.
- Groups of vehicles travel up the Pass in one smooth movement, free of stopping.
With this traffic management plan, vehicles are held on level ground in the Hartley Valley. This places less strain on vehicle engines and allows better access to Victoria Pass in emergency situations.
This Plan has been used on previous holiday periods/long weekends since October 2020 with demonstrated improvements in travel delays and elimination of vehicle breakdowns meaning everyone can return home safely.
This Traffic Management Plan has been shown to improve road safety, greatly reduce the risk of break down, and prevent further delays.
Plan your holiday return to avoid congestion
Transport for NSW encourages motorists to try the following steps to avoid congestion and queues on the Great Western Highway at Victoria Pass:
- Plan your trip – leave earlier, or leave later, to avoid the peak congestion times of 11am-7pm.
- Consider alternative routes – traffic management at the base of Mount Victoria affects east bound travellers. For your return to Sydney, the Hume Highway or the Golden Highway may offer a better alternative, depending on where you start your journey. However, please be aware that these Highways also experience some congestion at the end of school holidays and long weekends.
- Use public transport – for a day trip or for travel beyond the Blue Mountains, use public transport. For information on booking travel beyond Lithgow, please go to TransportNSW
or call 13 22 32.
Stay patient and stay safe
Noone likes congestion and we are doing our best to manage and minimise your travel delay.
Please drive to the conditions, allow extra time and follow the direction of signs and traffic control.
Please treat traffic controllers with respect – they are working during holidays and often in adverse weather, trying to make sure everyone gets home safely.
Reducing congestion on the Great Western Highway
The NSW and Australian Federal Governments have committed a combined $4.5 billion towards upgrading the Great Western Highway between Katoomba and Lithgow.
Transport for NSW is currently investigating a tunnel between Blackheath and Little Hartley as part of the upgrade. A tunnel offers a way to bypass the convict-built Victoria Pass and provide more efficient access and gradient for vehicles travelling into the mountains.
The Great Western Highway Upgrade Program will complete the final 34 kilometre link in a modern dual carriageway roadway across the Blue Mountains. This will:
- reduce congestion
- deliver safer, more efficient and reliable journeys for those travelling in, around and through the Blue Mountains
- provide a better connection for communities in the Central West.
Read more about the Great Western Highway Upgrade Program.