Westpac Rescue Helicopter attends yet another Pacific Highway fatal accident.
Westpac Rescue Helicopter attends yet another Pacific Highway fatal accident. ADAM HOURIGAN

Highway promise can't be met

WADE Walker has pulled too many dead bodies from smashed vehicles on the Pacific Highway.

So when the former paramedic heard yesterday that there was a black hole of $7 billion in the budget for the highway’s dual carriageway upgrade he was outraged.

“Governments simply just don’t value human life,” he said.

“To me it’s like they have got an acceptable target for the number of lives lost, and if it doesn’t reach that, it’s okay.”

Mr Walker said with the Pacific Highway road toll continuing to climb, it was time for both governments to get their priorities right.

“It’s absolutely outrageous that we have got the same stretch of road out at Cowper and the same stretch of road down at Clybucca where those horrific bus crashes occurred,” he said. “If the governments don’t have the money they should set up tollways to raise the funds.”

The revelation of the black hole on Wednesday by Infrastructure and Transport Department secretary Mike Mrdak casts serious doubt on whether the project will be completed by the Federal Government’s 2016 deadline.

The shortfall is in addition to the $4.1 billion between 2008 and 2014/15 already committed by the Gillard Government, and the $500 million committed by the State Government.

The black hole is also on top of the yet-to-be-honoured $750 million State Government commitment to match funding promised in the recent Federal Budget.

Compounding the project’s financial woes is the unrealistic work schedule of the duplication, which doesn’t include the Coffs Harbour or Raymond Terrace bypasses.

This was confirmed in Wednesday’s Senate estimates committee debate between Mr Mrdak and Senator John Williams.

Mr Mrdak told the committee between now and 2014, 94.4 km of the highway would be duplicated. This would leave a massive 235.6km of work to be finished between 2014 and 2016.

Federal Nationals leader Warren Truss has accused Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese of fraud and deceit, after he and the Gillard Government said the duplication would be completed by 2016.

State Roads Minister Duncan Gay would not commit the O’Farrell Government to matching Canberra’s $750 million. “The $5.2 billion budget black hole left by previous State Labor government makes additional funding difficult,” he said.

“We will need to examine the additional funding requirements as part of our budgetary process.”

Mr Gay played down the federal commitment, claiming they had moved the goalposts. “$750 million from the Federal Government is in reality just $200 million of new money,” he said.

“The Federal Government also has changed the traditional split of 80-20 to 50-50, which took the NSW Government by surprise.”

Despite being asked if he would honour his party’s pre-election pledge to the 2016 duplication, Mr Gay threw responsibility back into the Gillard Government’s lap.

“We want to see the Prime Minister’s target of duplicating the Pacific Highway by 2016 achieved,” he said.

Pacific Highway Taskforce chairman Richie Williamson said both State and Federal governments would need to commit more funds if they were to meet the 2016 deadline for duplication.

“The project will need a massive injection of funds from both the State and Federal governments,” he said.

Mr Williamson said in 2009 the taskforce was told the duplication would cost $6 billion.

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