Ever since the northern section of the upgraded Pacific Highway opened in July 2016, Nambucca Valley Council has had the maintenance of the old highway on its agenda.
"The question as to who would be responsible for its upkeep was always there, so together with Bellingen Shire Council, we put a lot of money into paying engineers to give us reports on the condition of the old highway," the council's General Manager Michael Coulter said.
"We got a 'dilapidation report' and then we began negotiating with staff from Roads and Maritime Services (now Transport for NSW) to reach an agreement as to how we would financially split the responsibility."
In August last year agreement was finally reached for the Nambucca Heads to Bellingen section of the road.
Following the opening of the southern section of the highway in December 2017, discussions about that section of the old highway began in earnest.
"We weren't far off reaching an agreement but then Melinda Pavey, who was the then Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight (January 2017 until March 2019) declared the NSW Government would retain complete responsibility for the old highway.
"Now however we have received a letter (from a newly-formed Independent Review Panel) saying the NSW Government intends to transfer the old highway to the council ... it is like Groundhog Day!"
He said it was very concerning to have reached such an advanced stage of negotiations and see all that work (and money) simply go "out the window".
"We have now met with Transport for NSW and they acknowledged what we were saying ... they said they would familiarise themselves with all the recent history.
"After all this work we are anxious to finalise the deal."
The mayor Rhonda Hoban said the review had put the brakes on the handover and she was extremely concerned that would see everything go back to 'square one'.
"After years we were coming close to an affordable solution so it is frustrating to say the least. A review like this could take months ... all we want is to move forward," Cr Hoban said.
"We are required by the NSW Government to make long-term financial plans but we can't do anything until we know what this review comes up with.
"This is ringing alarm bells with me because with the amount of money the Government has had to spend post COVID and post the fires, I am worried this review is part of a longer process that will see purse strings tighten with costs and responsibilities shifted to the council."