Highway summit calls for a public outcry
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
"I WANT this to be the start of an outcry," began Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett at yesterday's Pacific Highway summit in Ballina.
"Twenty-five years is the current estimate for making the Pacific Highway dual carriageway.
"That is simply too long. Even 15 years is too long.
"Our communities want action now ? we want a safer Pacific Highway within 10 years."
Cr Bennett, who is also the president of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC), then officially announced the formation of a joint Pacific Highway task force made up of North Coast councils and the NRMA.
"It will be a broad church ? no political affiliations ? the more the merrier," he said.
"We want to keep this issue in front of governments so the money is found, without excuses and without delay."
The task force will campaign for the $5.6 billion needed for the entire length of the Pacific Highway to be made dual carriageway within 10 years.
Under the current level of State and Federal funding, the upgrade will not be complete until 2025.
NRMA president Alan Evans suggested a number of methods of raising the funds which the task force will investigate.
"Tolling is only one option. There are a host of ways that the finance can be raised," he said.
"Debt financing is one ? where the Government borrows the money to pay for infrastructure.
"Partnerships with the private sector are another way. Every motorway under construction in Sydney is funded by the private sector."
Mr Evans also suggested infrastructure bonds, where funds are raised from private investors who get an ongoing return on their investment.
"There's also a beacon on the horizon in the shape of Telstra," he said.
"With continued Government funding of the upgrade, if you were to shave 10 per cent off the proceeds from the sale of Telstra, the highway would be paid for."
However the money was raised, most who attended the summit agreed it needed to be done fast.
"It is already a symbol of neglect and a daily living ex- ample of danger," said Cr Bennett.
"I hope every council and every community up and down the highway will pick up on this issue and run with it. It's a way we can respond meaningfully to the tragedies that are occurring on our roads."
State Member for Ballina Don Page and Federal Member for Page Ian Causley also spoke, but NSW Roads Minister Michael Costa could not attend because of a Parliamentary sitting.
Mr Costa yesterday announced he would stage his own rural roads summit in Dubbo on May 19.
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