THE State Government is urging residents to flee Sydney during World Youth Day to avoid traffic chaos as it revealed that the Harbour Bridge will be closed for 12 hours and there will be road closures throughout the eastern suburbs.
Roadblocks will stretch at least nine kilometres to allow 180,000 pilgrims to walk from North Sydney, across the bridge, through Darling Harbour and on to Randwick racecourse for religious celebrations on Saturday, July 19.
Major roads, including the Western Distributor and Anzac Parade, will be closed for the pilgrimage, prompting fears of a repeat of the chaos last year when the city's transport system collapsed under the pressure of huge crowds wanting to see the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Sydney Harbour.
The Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, yesterday conceded there would be widespread disruptions for residents when the bridge was closed from 4.30am, but stressed that traffic would be managed as well as during the Sydney Olympics.
"We know that any closure of the bridge causes significant traffic disruption. This is the 24th time we've closed the bridge and we are well placed to handle whatever World Youth Day throws at us,"Mr Roozendaal said.
"World Youth Day will be second only to the Olympics in its scale and complexity as a traffic management event."
Mr Roozendaal said it had not yet been decided whether the road closures in the eastern suburbs would be staged or in place all day but he urged people to use public transport.
"The message to Sydneysiders for World Youth Day week is leave the car at home and use public transport if you can, and if you are travelling to the city please allow for delays," he said.
The Opposition transport spokeswoman, Gladys Berejiklian, said residents had every right to be nervous about massive disruptions.
"The Government will need to make sure it keeps people well informed of the changes to public transport so that we don't have a repeat of that disaster last year when the two Queens were in town," Ms Berejiklian said.
The Government's World Youth Day spokeswoman, Kristina Keneally, said residents would see it as a positive event for Sydney, unlike last year's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, which also required significant road closures.
"Those Sydneysiders who don't want to participate in World Youth Day will be given the information they require to minimise the disruption to their lives, and in fact it may even encourage them to consider a holiday in regional NSW," Ms Keneally said.
She said transport details were being finalised but there would be extra public transport services to cope with the influx of hundreds of thousands of people.