Highway funding cop-out

HIGHWAY campaigners have expressed shock at the apparent collapse of the next round of funding for the Pacific Highway.

The Federal Government declared it would withdraw more than $3.5 billion set aside for the project unless the State Government matched the money.

The brinkmanship exercise blew up on Thursday night, when NSW Transport Minister Duncan Gay's office said it "can't and won't" match the funding.

If the NSW Government fails to match the funding and it is pulled from the highway, it will leave about 180km of unfunded road projects in the lurch, mostly in the Ballina to Woolgoolga stretch and including the "tired zone" around Woodburn and New Italy.

NRMA Motoring and Services president Wendy Machin said the two governments had been caught in a "race to the bottom" in the debate over highway funding and warned the loss of Federal funds could set the upgrade project back years.

"I think it's disappointing, to put it mildly," Ms Machin said.

Ms Machin said she could see merit on both sides of the argument - the Commonwealth assertion NSW should wear half the cost and the State Government's claim that Federal Labor had moved the goalposts once it had to deal with a Coalition State Government.

"We have to have a reality check and see what (funding) they can put in," Ms Machin said.

Pacific Highway Taskforce chairman and Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson said the two governments were indulging in a point-scoring exercise that would bear a cost in human lives.

"It's disappointing that the Federal money, if not matched, is taken off the table," he said.

"The Federal Government will have to make a contribution at some point, so why not leave it on the table now and get on with the job?

"There will be lives lost because of this decision. There are people reading The Northern Star today who will be affected by this decision into the future."

Ballina Shire councillor Alan Brown, who spent years fighting for the now completed Ballina Bypass, said he was "disgusted" at the funding argument raging between the two governments.



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