Hwy upgrade threat to regional roads

AN EXPLOSIVE Infrastructure NSW report, which suggests city stretches of the Pacific Hwy be given priority over regional roads, has been rebuked by North Coast MPs.

The First Things First 20-year strategy recommends, among other things, that given the "high cost and relatively limited benefits" of the Port Macquarie-to-Urunga and Woolgoolga-to-Ballina upgrades, questions should be raised about the "relative merit of prioritising busier roads".

The report, which does not take into account the number of road fatalities and serious accidents on the northern stretch, also calls for a "review of the scope and costs of the Pacific Hwy".

Sydney's F3-to-Raymond Terrace project is listed as an alternative due to the 40,000 vehicles which use it every day compared to the "relatively light traffic" in other sections.

Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser said delaying upgrades in the northern region in "any way, shape or form is totally unacceptable".

He said the fatal crash near Nambucca Heads on Tuesday night and other serious accidents in the past week should serve as a reminder why the road is labelled "the death highway".

"There is no question we have far more deaths and injuries on the northern section than the F3," Mr Fraser said.

"Almost daily we have a death or serious accident and I will fight any move to delay or de-prioritise these upgrades."

In the report, the $640 million Ballina bypass is used to illustrate the "consequences of having high- performing standards".

It is also estimated costs for the currently unfunded projects will increase by up to 40%.

Mr Fraser agreed the State Government needed to review its spending but said the focus should be on cutting costs in the planning stages and not delaying much-needed works.

He questioned who came up with the figure of $70 million just to "plan" the Woolgoolga-to-Ballina upgrade and suggested that kind of money would be better spent saving lives than "propping up bloated bureaucracies in Sydney".

North Coast MP Don Page, who admitted this week that the 2016 deadline for the Pacific Hwy duplication would not be met, said there would be "no watering down" on the State Government's commitment to the upgrades.

The strategy makes 70 recommendations across 11 categories, including regional transport.

Soon after it was released on Wednesday, Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner and Roads Minister Duncan Gay issued a statement confirming $403 million had been secured for the Pacific Hwy through the Restart NSW fund.

One line read "...the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government continues to invest in the infrastructure across regional NSW that makes a difference to both our economy and people's lives".

When Mr Gay was asked to respond to the suggestion Pacific Hwy upgrades had "relatively limited benefits", a spokesman from his office would only say "Infrastructure NSW is an independent body, which has produced an independent report. The NSW Government will respond to the report by the end of the year".

Topics:  funding, infrastructure, pacific highway, regional, report, roads



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