Parliamentary highway inquiry backed by MPs

By ALEX EASTON

A PARLIAMENTARY inquiry into the Pacific Highway appears certain after Greens MP Ian Cohen yesterday announced Coalition and key cross-bench MPs had agreed to back the inquiry.

The announcement came as the Federal Government handed over the last $40 million of a $650 million 10-year commitment to the highway in Tuesday's budget and confirmed plans to pump another $160 million into the road in 2006-07.

It also came as NSW Roads Minister Michael Costa and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson prepared for a meeting next week on plans to use private funding and tollways to get the highway upgraded faster.

Under that plan, the upgraded highway would be renamed the Pacific Motorway and tolls would be imposed on long-distance traffic passing through the upgraded sections.

Local traffic would be exempt from the tolls and existing tracts of highway would be kept for local roads, as was done with the old highway when the Yelgun to Chinderah and Brunswick to Ewingsdale sections were built.

Mr Cohen said terms of reference for the inquiry, to be run by the same committee that looked into the axing a year ago of the Northern Rivers XPT, had not yet been set, but it was likely to ex- amine:

n The RTA's reasons for expanding its study area for the Ewings- dale to Tintenbar corridor;

n The reasons for allowing B-doubles and other national freight traffic to use the Pacific Highway and whether trucks could be forced back onto the New Eng- land Highway; and

n Whether the RTA planned for the highway to be transformed into a six-lane super highway at some point in the future.

Ballina MP Don Page yesterday said the two Coalition MPs on the committee ? Jenny Gardiner (Nationals) and David Clarke (Liberal Party) ? had promised to back the inquiry.

Combined with cross-bench MPs on the committee ? One Nation's David Oldfield and the Greens' Sylvia Hale ? that gave the four votes needed to force the seven-member committee to run the inquiry.

Mr Cohen said it would be several months, at the earliest, before the committee could begin hearings.



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