THE $12 million upgrade of Willow Tree Road - that will benefit motorists travelling to and from Merriwa - is on track to be completed by September.
Upper Hunter Shire Council has already sealed 8km of road, with two kilometres to go within Stage 2 of the project.
Stage 2 involves the widening of the cutting over the Liverpool Range, where a change in elevation of 200m, requiring over 180,000m3 of rock, earth and some trees to be moved, along a 3km stretch of the road.
This major earthworks is now complete and the road crews are currently working on road shape corrections and drainage.
The linking of the Golden Highway and the New England Highways will save about 44km each way and provide a faster and safer route in the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains shires for locals, visitors, and stock and produce transport.
In 2016, the Australian Government made $5.5 million available for the road upgrade through the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.
The joint project by Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains shire councils is funded with $5.57 million from the NSW Government's Restart NSW Fixing Country Roads program, adding to the $800,000 NSW Government's funding from the Regional Roads REPAIR Program.
Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen said he was eagerly anticipating completion of the project, which would greatly improve freight efficiencies for the region.
"Projects like this help keep our $60 billion freight industry moving by cutting costs and boosting productivity for our local primary producers and farmers, as well as creating a safer and more efficient road system for all motorists," he explained.
"This funding is part of the Nationals in government's ongoing commitment to our local communities in Upper Hunter, and to wider rural and regional NSW."
Upper Hunter Shire mayor Wayne Bedggood said the upgrade would make for a cheaper, faster and safer trip for not only industry operators and farmers but also for tourists, school buses, ambulances, families and individuals.
"This is about helping farmers, truck drivers, and small businesses getting goods to markets," he added.
"It is about tourists exploring our region, locals accessing education and medical services, and doing so quickly and safely.
"We thank drivers for their patience during this important road upgrade."
Council's director of infrastructure services Nick Havyatt said council road crews had done an outstanding job despite the extra challenge of drought conditions requiring water to be carted long distances daily to the roadworks.