What?s best for highway
By SAMANTHA TURNBULL
A CAMPAIGN to make the entire Pacific Highway dual carriageway within 10 years has been stalled by State and Federal bickering over the AusLink agreement.
Under current funding, the highway is not expected to be complete for at least 20 years.
The Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) and the NRMA have formed a task force to campaign for work on a dual carriageway Pacific Highway to be fast tracked.
The Northern Star launched its own campaign in May in support of an upgraded highway by 2016.
NSW Roads Minister Joe Tripodi said that goal was now impossible because the Federal Government had 'shortchanged' the State when they signed off on the Commonwealth's national transport plan, AusLink, last week.
"Other highways in the network will receive 80 per cent funding from the Federal Government under AusLink, yet it is contributing only 20 per cent of what is needed every year to complete the Pacific Highway's dual carriageway program by 2016," Mr Tripodi said.
"Under the AusLink deal that's a $480 million black hole for the Pacific Highway, courtesy of the Federal Government."
Mr Tripodi's argument was rejected by Federal Roads Minister Jim Lloyd, NSW Shadow Roads Minister Andrew Stoner, and Federal Member for Page Ian Causley.
"Mr Tripodi's efforts to try and blame the Federal Government are a smokescreen to disguise funding cuts his Government had already decided would occur on our State roads," Mr Stoner said.
Mr Causley said AusLink would see the Federal Government increase its Pacific Highway funding from $60 million to $160 million a year.
However, Mr Tripodi said it was not enough.
NOROC chairman Ernie Bennett said he was fed up with both governments blaming each other.
"It's time they gave up on this political garbage and got their heads together to figure out how to fund it," he said.
"They need to go behind closed doors and belt each other around as much as they need to. We don't care how they do it as long as they do something. They're playing with people's lives."
Meanwhile, Mr Tripodi gave no indication as to when new Pacific Highway routes would be finalised between Woodburn and Ewingsdale.
"Work is proceeding, however it would be completed more quickly if the Federal Government funded the Pacific Highway in the same way it funds other highways in the new Auslink national net- work," he said.
The uncertainty was one of the main reasons behind Ewingsdale resident Bernard Grinberg's decision to run for a seat in the current NRMA board election.
Mr Grinberg is the only resident between Port Stephens and Tweed Heads who is seeking election to the NRMA board.
"I believe major highways should be routed at least 5km from any major community," he said.
"I'm quite happy for the new Pacific Highway to be done quickly, but I'm not happy about where it's being built."
He said he would also campaign for heavy vehicles to be moved back to the New England Highway, but that was only a small part of his entire platform.
"The B-doubles are not the problem, they just symbolise the problem," he said.
"The first issue is that we need more sensible consultation with the community to decide new highway routes."
NRMA members can vote in the 2005 board elections at www.mynrma.com.au/2005 elections. Voting closes at 5pm on November 4.