Highway upgrade target of summit


FEDERAL Transport Minister John Anderson will push the benefits of a Pacific Motorway toll road if he attends next month's highway summit at Ballina.

The May 6 summit is being set up by the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) to find ways to speed up the upgrading of the the highway.

Mr Anderson and NSW Roads Minister Michael Costa are being invited to the summit, but both yesterday said they had not yet received their invitations and couldn't decide whether to go until they arrived.

A spokesman for Mr Anderson said if the Deputy Prime Minister attended he would talk about his proposal to use private funding to speed up the upgrade.

Under the plan, announced at Newcastle last month, the highway would be finished by 2016, using a combination of public and private funding.

The use of private funding would turn the highway into a tollway, but Mr Anderson said the toll would apply only to trucks, which would save about $132 per trip in fuel and time on an upgraded highway.

A NOROC spokesman defended the delay, saying they wanted a clearer idea of who would be speaking before sending invitations for the summit.

That list was still being finalised, but invitations were expected to be sent out today.

NOROC chairman and Kyogle Mayor Ernie Bennett said the main objective of the summit would be to convince Mr Costa and Mr Anderson of the urgent need to convert the entire highway to dual carriageway.

"We know they both see the highway as something that is a problem that needs to be addressed. What we want is to lift it in their priority list," Cr Bennett said.

Cr Bennett said the upgrade was primarily about safety, saying the highway had claimed 430 lives during the past decade and quoting NRMA estimates that 90 per cent of those deaths would not have happened, had the road been dual carriageway.

"What we are talking about is 380 people who could be still alive if we had a split dual-carriageway for the past 10 years," he said.

If the only way to fasttrack the highway was to do it as a tollway for trucks, then that would have to be considered, he said.

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