Bypass heads west!

By BELINDA SCOTT

PROMISES for the Pacific Highway ratcheted up another notch yesterday when the Coalition committed itself to building a far western bypass around Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga.

In a flurry of expensive announcements during the visit to Grafton by the Prime Minister John Howard, the Federal member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker announced that the Coalition would commit to the far western bypass subject to the completion of an independent study which confirmed its viability.

The commitment is also obviously subject to the Coalition being re-elected for another term, with the announcement drawing comments yesterday that the Coalition must be seriously concerned about its electoral chances in Page and Cowper.

The two coastal Federal electorates are among several seats targeted as potentially marginal by the ALP in the current Claytons federal election campaign.

Mr Hartsuyker said the money would come from the $2.4 billion in Commonwealth funding for 2010-2014 which was directed to the Pacific Highway in an announcement by the Prime Minister yesterday.

That money, to be used for upgrading the highway to dual carriageway from Sydney to Woolgoolga and Brisbane to Ballina, comes from the Auslink 2 funding announced in the Federal budget in May.

Mr Hartsuyker said the study of the far western route would be completed independent of the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority.

A coastal route to the west of the two urban areas was chosen by the Roads and Traffic Authority for the Pacific Highway bypass several years ago, with RTA engineers and planners saying a far western bypass through the Orara Valley would not carry enough traffic to justify the cost and difficulty of construction and environmental damage.

But several groups have been lobbying heavily for that decision to be re-assessed on the basis of the increased traffic on the existing highway and the expected tripling of freight vehicles.

Mr Hartsuyker said the commitment to a far western bypass did not negate the need for an upgrade of the current highway between Sapphire and Woolgoolga.

"Sapphire to Woolgoolga is a very busy section of road because of local traffic and it's essential it is upgraded to provide safety for local motorists," he said.

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