By BELINDA SCOTT
COFFS Harbour City Council and State MP Andrew Fraser are already applauding $1-billion worth of Federal funding for the Pacific Highway, but Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker is toeing the party line and refusing to open the champagne just yet.
Whatever he actually knows about the massive funding injection, publicly yesterday Mr Hartsuyker was saying the $1 billion was just 'media speculation.'
Nor would he comment on what black spots on the Coffs Coast would benefit from such funding, saying 'all the locals know the areas that require attention.'
But he did say that it would take 'a substantial cost injection' above the $1.3-billion worth of funding announced so far, to finish the upgrade of the highway from Sydney to Brisbane to a four-lane standard by 2016, as planned.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that a further $1 billion for the Pacific Highway was part of a $5 billion roads package to be unveiled next week as the Prime Minister moves to shore up voter support in key NSW seats.
The article pointed out that large, winding stretches of the highway still have a single lane in each direction and that the Prime Minister's 1996 election commitment to complete the dual carriageway in 10 years expired last year.
New funding for the Pacific Highway will help the Coalition defend North Coast seats Page, Cowper and Lyne, held by the Nationals.
Two weeks ago the ALP moved to upgrade its election campaign strategy in Cowper after party research showed that the seat was a potentially marginal one.
"This is very good news indeed," Coffs Harbour Mayor Keith Rhoades said yesterday.
"There is some fantastic work being carried out on the Pacific Highway south of Coffs Harbour at the moment and it would be wonderful if we could see the necessary work starting on other parts of the highway soon."
Cr Rhoades, who is an executive member of the Pacific Highway Taskforce, said he was sure the community as well as the council warmly welcomed the proposed funding.
Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser called on the NSW government to match the funding.
Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile told ABC radio that as a road of national significance, but not a national highway, the NSW government was required to match Federal spending on the Pacific Highway $ for $. There have been repeated calls for the road to be made a national highway, which would ensure 100 per cent Federal funding.
ALP candidate Paul Sekfy said the Cowper blackspots were all the sections with a single lane in each direction between Kempsey and Maclean, where fatigue led to people fallingh asleep and to head-on crashes.
He said these slow dangerous sections were also a major disadvantage for both Mr Hartsuyker and himself in their travels around the electorate.