Bypassed, Government betrays Alstonville: Who?s next?
By ALEX EASTON, Chief reporter
HOPES for a speedy end to the region's highway woes have been dashed with news yesterday that the promised Alstonville bypass will be shelved for at least a year.
The news throws into doubt speculation on impending starting dates for the planned Ballina bypass and St Helena upgrade.
It also comes soon after black spots tagged for improvement under the St Helena upgrade and Ballina bypass each claimed local lives.
Work on the Alstonville bypass was scheduled to start early this year, but Federal Roads Minister Jim Lloyd yesterday confirmed his former NSW counterpart, Carl Scully, wrote to him in November to say work would be delayed until 2006.
In the letter, Mr Scully blamed a shortage of funds for the delay.
New NSW Roads Minister Michael Costa yesterday blamed last year's unpopular State mini-budget ? the same one that cost the Northern Rivers its train service.
That response was not good enough for members of the government-appointed Alstonville bypass community liaison group, with bypass campaigner Bob Wilson warning of community action.
"There are going to be a lot of hostile people," Mr Wilson warned. "The demonstrations will be back and this time they won't be very pleasant."
Ballina MP Don Page said the money for the bypass was supposed to have been set aside under the Road and Transport Authority's forward capital works program.
That should have made the bypass immune to changes in the Government's budget position, he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Costa said funding for the project remained with the RTA capital works program, but said the Government had nevertheless been forced to reschedule several major road projects in the mini-budget.
The Government blamed the budget cuts on reduced Federal Government contributions to the State.
But a spokeswoman for Mr Lloyd said the Federal money for the project was already in place.
"It is disappointing that the State has once again delayed this project, considering it was the State that initiated it," she said.
Mr Page said the new delay on the Alstonville bypass ? a project that had supposedly been assured ? boded ill for other major road projects on the Northern Rivers.
The region's roads have come under heavy attention so far this year, with fatal accidents at Tintenbar and St Helena, and with the RTA holding out the tantalising promise of a highway upgrade between Ewingsdale and Ross Lane with a new push to settle on a route.
"It doesn't bode well," he said. "If they can't find $12 million for Alstonville, what chance have we got of getting $125 million for the Ballina bypass?"