Drivers, emus toe the line
THE devil is in the detail of the Pacific Highway upgrade as the NSW Government refuses to rule out tolls, while the extinction of a rare emu lies in the Roads Minister's hands.
The Ballina bypass and the Ewingsdale to Tintenbar upgrade could become toll roads under one of the options to fast-track a dual carriageway for the Pacific Highway.
The NSW Minister for Roads, Joe Tripodi, yesterday could not guarantee that the North Coast projects would remain toll-free.
Private corporations are expected to construct sections of the motorway in return for tolls because the State and Federal Governments are unable to meet the $8 billion price tag.
Asked whether the State Government was planning a six-lane motorway or a dual carriageway, Mr Tripodi said it aimed to provide a dual carriageway.
"Upgrading the highway to dual carriageway will take decades unless both the Federal and State Governments find a way to accelerate the work," he said.
Mr Tripodi said a memorandum of understanding between the Federal and State Governments had guaranteed free alternative routes for local motorists.
Nationals Roads spokesman Andrew Stoner yesterday said the toll road option treated residents as second-class citizens.
"If you want to get to work or medical assistance or to visit family, then you must use a substandard, circuitous route," Mr Stoner said.
"Otherwise you must pay to access a safe, modern road, a fa- cility most city dwellers get for free."
In talks about the upgrade little has been said about the habitat degradation of the eastern coastal emu, which it is believed will become extinct if two of the route options (C and D) are utilised.
In an impact report written by Talloumbi resident Pauline Jackson, it is asserted that the Clarence valley contains the only viable breeding population in Australia.
The report states: Any frag- mentation of this final population of emus, or their habitat, will result in the total extinction of the emu from the eastern seaboard of Australia.
Gulmarrad resident Louise Sheehan said: "I sometimes see the emus in my yard. They are quite curious but shy, too. It's worrying that these creatures are threatened, and it's not just the emus but there is a huge variety of wildlife out here."
She said even without the motorway wildlife still suffered and was sporadically hit by cars.