Ten-year plan for highway

By MEL MARTIN

COFFS Harbour Councillor Rod McKelvey is confident that joining forces with other councils along the coast will help push for a faster upgrade of the Pacific Highway.

On Friday, the NRMA and North Coast councils formed a task force to lobby for the $5.6 billion needed to fast-track the Pacific Highway upgrade between Newcastle and the Queensland border to dual carriageway within 10 years.

Current plans are for completion by 2025.

The task force hopes to recruit all councils along that stretch of the highway, and Coffs Harbour City Council will move to convince the Mid North Coast Regional Organisation of Councils (MIDROC) to add its voice to the cause.

"This alliance is about presenting a united front. It's about having everyone on the same page and coming up with a list of priorities," Cr McKelvey said.

"If all councils do get involved, we'll represent about one million residents. And if everyone with uncompleted sections of the highway say the same thing, it might dawn on them (Federal and NSW governments) that this issue is really affecting the community. It seems to me it will make a difference and a lot of sense. It's the power of many voices, as opposed to just one."

Cr McKelvey added that compounding the urgency was the prediction that by 2025 about 25 per cent of the Australian population would be living between Coffs Harbour and Hervey Bay in Queensland.

Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) president and Kyogle mayor Ernie Bennett said at the Friday meeting where the task force was formed that the current estimate was simply too long.

"We want to keep this issue in front of governments so the money is found, without excuses and without delay," he said.

"I hope every council and every community up and down the highway will pick up on this issue and run with it."

NRMA President Alan Evans agreed, saying that 90 per cent of the 213 head-on crashes that occurred over a three year period could have been prevented on a divided highway.

"First of all, people are dying. "Second, local towns are congested and overrun by trucks. "Third, local economies are being held back. "Fourth, the NSW and national economies are suffering from the trucking industry's inability to meet freight demand safely and efficiently," he said.

Mr Evans put forward a number of ways to fund the upgrade, including a toll, debt financing - where the government borrows the money, partnerships with the private sector, infrastructure bonds - where private investors invest for an ongoing return, and even the sale of Telstra.

"NRMA will lend all available weight and resources we have to the task force," Mr Evans said.

"This is a great opportunity for the councils to work together to get governments to deliver for our people. If we work together, we can get the Pacific Highway finished and fixed once and for all."



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