Howard's $2.4b election bid
By Alex Easton
STANDING on the side of the Pacific Highway in Grafton yesterday, Prime Minister John Howard pledged $2.4 billion to fast-track the duplication of the motorway under the Federal Government's 2020 plan for Australia's roads. But Mr Howard's announcement left the critical stretch of highway between Ballina and Woolgoolga in the balance, saying it would be done only if the NSW Government coughed up $2.4 billion of its own. Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, Mr Howard identified duplication of the road north to Woolgoolga, and south from the border to the Ballina bypass, as funding priorities. He also said extensive safety work would be carried out, and that the Coffs Harbour bypass and Banora Point upgrade would benefit from the money. Mr Howard said if the NSW Government matched the $2.4 billion, the stretch of highway between Woolgoolga and Ballina would be on track for duplication by 2016. However, he said the money would be spent regardless of whether the NSW Government equalled the funds. Mr Vaile also announced the Coalition was prepared to commit to a far western bypass of Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga. While NSW Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal welcomed the funding commitment, he refused to immediately match the pledge, saying he wanted to see the details. He said the $2.4 billion announcement would not fix the road by 2016, as the Prime Minister implied. "We're talking about a highway that needs about $8 billion to be completed the largest road infrastructure project in the country. It's clearly of national significance," Mr Roozendaal said. Mr Vaile rejected comments by Mr Roozendaal this week that he knew nothing of the $2.4 billion promise, saying they'd had a one-on-one meeting on the issue after the Federal Budget was handed down. Labor candidate for Page Janelle Saffin said Mr Howard had promised to upgrade the highway in 1996, and it was time to end the 'blame game'. "It's time to put an end to the broken promises on the Pacific Highway, and get on with the job of working to complete the dual carriageway from Woolgoolga to Ballina," Ms Saffin said.