Rudd ups the ante on roads funding
By Alex Easton
BALLINA and Alstonville will get their bypasses and much of the Pacific Highway will be fixed under a Labor plan to spend more than $1.5 billion on Northern Rivers roads.
The plan, announced by Labor Leader Kevin Rudd in Lismore yesterday, echoes a $2.4 billion promise made shortly before the election by Prime Minister John Howard, and adds to it by committing $90 million to the Alstonville bypass.
Mr Rudd said more announcements on the highway were coming, but yesterday committed: !n $446m to the Ballina bypass; !n $335m to the Ewingsdale to Tintenbar Pacific Highway upgrade; !n $210m to the Sextons Hill upgrade on the Tweed; and !n $460m to the highway between Sapphire and Woolgoolga. "These are five major local roads projects," he said. "It makes you conscious of just how much communities need good local roads.
"The real challenge is to decrease the crashes and fatalities on Northern Rivers roads."
Like Mr Howard's recent announcement at Grafton, Mr Rudd's announcement leaves out a critical section of the highway between Ballina and Woolgoolga, and is to be funded from the Auslink II roads funding package between 2009 and 2014.
Alstonville Bypass Action Group spokesman Bob Wilson cautiously welcomed the funding, but said residents were suspicious of promises from politicians after former NSW Premier Bob Carr's 2003 promise to build the road.
Mr Wilson, a National Party member, said the group would now push for the Coalition to match Mr Rudd's promise on the bypass.
Ballina mayor Phillip Silver agreed, saying 'all Ballina was celebrating' the announcement, which was also good news for Lismore. But, he added, 'woe-betide any party that wins Government and doesn't follow through on its promises'.
"There have been a lot of promises over the years and quite frankly the community is sick of them now we want to see the construction start," he said. "This funding, if it is delivered, will finally end the traffic nightmare suffered by Alstonville residents, our schoolchildren and businesses."
Page Nationals candidate Chris Gulaptis has said he is lobbying the Coalition to commit to the project.
Speaking later at The Northern Star's Goonellabah offices, Mr Rudd said other local priorities for the region's transport network could be investigated by Infrastructure Australia, a new organisation proposed by Labor to identify and fix infrastructure shortfalls around Australia.
Projects that could be considered by the organisation included improving the Bruxner Highway and the Lismore-Bangalow Road, an improved link between the Summerland Way and the Mt Lindesay Highway, and the Casino to Murwillumbah train line.