The $700 million Singleton bypass is a step closer with a construction contract now signed to fix a notorious New England Highway bottleneck. State and federal officials announced on Sunday that Acciona Constructions Australia will be the contractor for the eight-kilometre project. The long-awaited bypass, which includes seven bridges, will remove up to 15,000 vehicles a day from the Singleton town centre. The Albanese Government has committed $560 million and the Minns Government $140 million to the project. Planning documents say 18,000 to 28,000 vehicles a day travel on the highway through Singleton, including up to 4200 heavy vehicles. Federal minister for regional development Catherine King said locking in the contractor for "Singleton's biggest infrastructure project" was "a landmark day for the Upper Hunter". Major work on the bypass is expected to start mid next year. It is due to open to traffic in late 2026, depending on the weather. NSW Regional Transport and Roads Minister Jenny Aitchison said the bypass would improve people's lives. "Motorists will avoid five sets of traffic lights in Singleton's CBD," said Ms Aitchison, also the Maitland MP. She said the bypass would improve safety and slash travel times. The bypass route, approved in 2020, involves building a new section of highway west of Singleton and across the floodplain. The project will bulldoze 15 hectares of vegetation listed under the Biodiversity Conservation Act, with a "significant impact" on the Central Hunter Valley eucalypt forest and woodland CEEC [critically endangered ecological communities]. The highway is a major freight and commuter route, forming part of the Sydney-Brisbane corridor. It's also the main route connecting the Upper Hunter with Maitland and Newcastle. Last December, farmers claimed "highway robbery" over prices that Transport for NSW offered for bypass land acquisitions. Planning documents state that the bypass had the "potential to impact local businesses within Singleton due to the diversion of traffic around the town". "Surveys of local businesses and commuters ... identified that the overall impact to businesses is likely to be minor," the documents state. "A large portion of highway traffic does not stop in Singleton, despite travelling through. Singleton would remain visible from the bypass, with signs encouraging traffic to continue to stop in town to access local businesses." The proposal would, however, "result in substantial benefits for freight vehicle movements". Singleton mayor Sue Moore said there had "always been a lot of questions about whether the bypass would proceed". "People will be able to move around more easily and without regular traffic congestion," Ms Moore said. "The bypass will also allow better access to Singleton and increase opportunities for more housing." Hunter MP Dan Repacholi said the project would benefit people who "live, work and visit our region", boost economic growth and provide more than 1300 construction jobs. Duty MLC for the Upper Hunter Emily Suvaal said "there are certain times of the day when the locals will tell you not to go anywhere in Singleton [due to the traffic]". Ms Suvaal said the bypass would improve residents' ability to "get about their wonderful town", including going to the shops and picking kids up from school.