KEEN TO MAKE FRIENDS: Federal Nationals Leader Mark Vaile with Page candidate Chris Gulaptis (centre) and Alstonville bypass co
KEEN TO MAKE FRIENDS: Federal Nationals Leader Mark Vaile with Page candidate Chris Gulaptis (centre) and Alstonville bypass co

COALITIONS COUNTERPUNCH

By Alex Easton alex.easton@northernstar.com.au

A RE-ELECTED Federal Coalition government would fully fund the Alstonville bypass, and would do it at least a year sooner than Federal Labor, Nationals Leader Mark Vaile said yesterday.

Mr Vaile said up to $90 million in Federal money from the Auslink II package would be brought forward to be immediately available for the bypass if the Coalition was returned to government. And he batted aside suggestions he was taking up the 'me too' electioneering tactic for which the Government has attacked Labor Leader Kevin Rudd. Mr Vaile's promise tops Mr Rudd's which was made in Lismore less than 48 hours earlier to fund the bypass from the Auslink II package under its existing timeframe, which starts in 2009 and runs until 2014.

The Deputy Prime Minister also added a commitment to fix the intersection of the Bruxner and Pacific highways south of Ballina, although he agreed that work was already planned as part of the Ballina bypass project.

The Ballina bypass was specifically named in Mr Rudd's $1.4 billion highway funding announcement on Tuesday, and was covered in a $2.4 billion promise made by Prime Minister John Howard at Grafton soon before the election campaign began.

In a sign of how desperate the battle for Page has become, Mr Vaile revealed he was making his promise without knowing the full cost of the project.

"We are committing up to another $90 million to build this because we don't know how much it will cost. (NSW Roads Minister) Eric Roozendaal won't tell me how much it will cost," Mr Vaile said.

"Since 2003 we have been trying to get this information from (NSW) Labor.

"We're still waiting for Eric Roozendaal to send us his priority list for the Pacific Highway, as well as their commitment on the Alstonville bypass.

"After the election we might hear something from them." Mr Vaile said the promise meant all the NSW Government had to do with the project was call for tenders and the Commonwealth would cover the rest up to a value of $90 million.

He said once tenders were called, market forces would reveal the true cost of the project, which was estimated at $24 million when the Commonwealth first committed $12 million to it in 2003.

That commitment had been followed by then Premier Bob Carr's now infamous promise to build the bypass, which was scrapped soon after he won the NSW election.

Mr Vaile said yesterday's announcement fitted in with the Coalition's 2020 Plan for Australia's Transport Future, which he described as an 'integrated vision' to tackle critical local roads and national highways around Australia.

The Alstonville bypass, which Alstonville Bypass Action Group spokesman Bob Wilson says the village has been trying to get for the past 40 years, was a vital road to the region.

Mr Vaile said the Bruxner Highway and the Alstonville bypass remained a State responsibility, but admitted 'residents are not concerned about whose responsibility it is, they just want the road built." Mr Wilson enthusiastically welcomed the announcement, which now commits both major parties to funding the project.

Yesterday's announcement also satisfies Ballina mayor Phillip Silver's call for the Coalition to back the project and ensure the bypass goes ahead, regardless of who wins.

Mr Vaile said Page Nationals candidate Chris Gulaptis had lobbied hard to have the Coalition commit to the bypass project.

As if to underscore Mr Vaile's promise, twice during his roadside media conference passing motorists yelled out for the Deputy Prime Minister to 'stop talking and build it'.

"That's what we're doing," Mr Vaile called back.



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