Push for upgrade in six years

A SECOND Pacific Highway summit will be held in a month, with a third also on the agenda, Northern Regional Organisation of Councils president Ernie Bennett announced yesterday.

The announcement came as Cr Bennett upped the ante on the push to fast-track the highway upgrade, saying it should be finished within six years, instead of the 10 the NRMA is fighting for.

Cr Bennett also turned the blowtorch onto the Howard Government, calling for it to pay for the upgrade with funds from the planned full sale of Telstra.

"If this nation has to give up a part of its infrastructure through Telstra, maybe that money should be used to fund other infrastructure projects," he said.

"Ten per cent of Telstra would be close to $4 billion and that money would make it possible to have it done within five or six years.".

A spokesman for Federal Transport Minister and Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson said the full sale of Telstra had not yet been settled on and it was too early to decide how the money would be spent. Cr Bennett's comments come as pressure builds on the Federal and State governments to fast-track the highway, with the death last week of a Grafton toddler at St Helena, Friday's Pacific Highway Summit, the formation of a highway upgrade taskforce and the announcement by Roads Minister Michael Costa of a country roads summit at Dubbo.

That summit, to be held Thursday week, will look at safety issues such as speed and fatigue.

Cr Bennett said future Pacific Highway summits, one to be held at Coffs Harbour or Kempsey and the other, if it is held, at or near Newcastle, would be timed to allow Mr Costa and Mr Anderson to attend.

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