Mayors push for highway timetable

By ALEX EASTON

NORTH COAST mayors met with the NSW Roads Minister for the first time in a decade yesterday in a bid to speed up the Pacific Highway upgrade.

The Pacific Highway Taskforce, represented by Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils president Cr Ernie Bennett, NOROC vice-president Cr Phillip Silver, Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades and Port Macquarie MP Rob Oakeshott, met with Roads Minister Joe Tripodi to push for a 10-year deadline on the upgrade.

The meeting came ahead of today's meeting between Mr Tripodi, Ballina MP Don Page, Lismore MP Thomas George and Clarence MP Steve Cansdell on their push for a western route for the highway.

Speaking after the meeting, Cr Bennett said the discussion focused on the need to fasttrack the upgrade, touching only briefly on matters such as the Ballina bypass.

"From the taskforce's point of view, we're not going to get involved in the selection of routes," Cr Bennett said.

"It is about working with the Government to lock in a strategic plan on how to complete the whole highway within 10 years," he said.

Cr Bennett conceded yesterday's meeting did not come close to meeting that goal, but said the group appeared to have been well received by Mr Tripodi and that the way was laid clear for future meetings that could also include Federal Roads Minister Jim Lloyd.

Mr Tripodi said he had been impressed by the delegation, but that the highway would need more Federal money if it was to be complete by 2016.

He said other roads within the Auslink network were getting 80 per cent of their funding from the Commonwealth, but the Pacific Highway was getting only 20 per cent.

Mr Lloyd could not be contacted yesterday.

Mr Oakeshott, who arranged yesterday's meeting, said the taskforce was prepared to look at all funding options ? including private funding ? to get the highway finished by 2016.

Cr Bennett said the North Coast mayors would elect an executive committee for the highway taskforce, which is backed by the NRMA, after the Country Mayors' Conference in Sydney next week. He hoped the new executive would be able to meet with Mr Tripodi soon afterwards.



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