Road cleared for upgrades
By BELINDA F SCOTT
NSW Premier Morris Iemma's declaration of the Pacific Highway as critical infrastructure has received both brickbats and bouquets.
Warrell Creek, Macksville to Urunga, Coffs Harbour Bypass, Sapphire to Woolgoolga and Woolgoolga to Wells Crossing were among 13 Pacific Highway upgrade projects declared critical infrastructure by the Premier yesterday.
Mr Iemma said the upgrade of the Pacific Highway was one of the largest infrastructure projects in Australian history and a key transport priority of the State Plan.
He said the critical infrastructure declaration would streamline the assessment and approval process.
But the president of the Woolgoolga Chamber of Commerce, Steve Moody, said the declaration would circumvent local socio-economic and environmental planning issues which were vital for the future of the Coffs Harbour local government area.
He said the process discarded many local planning instruments and the right of appeal against decisions made by the RTA and Macquarie Street.
Coffs Harbour mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, yesterday applauded the declaration, saying the council was not involved at all in the highway planning process and the declaration would make no difference to this.
"The sooner the upgrade is done, the sooner we can feel safer," Cr Rhoades said. "I was at the Shannon Creek Dam this week and that has been 12 years of paperwork and planning process and work only began two months ago. We're now in the planning process for the Pacific Highway."
He said even without extra Federal funding, the declaration could shave five to seven years from the completion time and might make the 'oft-quoted' 2016 finish date feasible.
The National Party member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, said while he would normally welcome such a declaration and did so for the majority of sections of the highway, he was not happy about it for two sections of the road.
"It frightens me in regard to the Sapphire-Woolgoolga and inner Coffs Harbour bypass sections," Mr Fraser said.
He said if a Liberal-National party government was elected in March, it would ensure studies were done 'properly' to secure a Far Western Bypass, with an interim upgrade of the Pacific Highway between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga to allow land releases on the northern beaches to proceed.
Mr Fraser said RTA staff had admitted, at a public meeting in Woolgoolga, that the proposed Coffs Harbour-Woolgoolga upgrade was only a 20-year solution and he was convinced new figures, using volumes of traffic on the highway since the Chinderah Bypass was opened, would show a far western route was feasible.