Minister says yes to highway funding

FEDERAL Roads Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday the Federal Government had budgeted $2.45 billion to the Pacific Highway from 2009 until 2014.

Speaking on ABC Local radio, the Minister said the Federal Government was looking to conclude an agreement with the NSW State Government by mid 2008 for funding of the five-year 2009-2014 highway improvement program.

He said funding agreements were generally matched dollar for dollar by the States. This would provide $4.9 billion for the Pacific Highway by 2014.

The Minister also said that the Rudd Government had brought forward extra funding into 2008-09 for projects at Ballina, Bulahdelah and Alstonville.

Federal member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, said it was very disappointing there was no funding in this Budget for roads in our area.

Mr Hartsuyker said there had been a subtraction, because there was no mention of any Pacific Highway upgrade for Sapphire to Woolgoolga, even though this had been included in an ALP election promise made by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Martin Ferguson.

"There is nothing new in this announcement," Mr Hartsuyker said.

But he made no commitment to finish the project by 2016, the finish date requested by the Chairman of the Pacific Highway Taskforce, Cr Ernie Bennett, but emphasised the Federal money was not conditional and said he was confident of a good outcome to the talks with the State Government.

Cr Bennett, who has said $6 billion will be needed to finish the job, said the Rudd Government had honoured its election commitment of allocating $2.4bn for Highway improvements.

The Kyogle Mayor also acknowledged that the Federal and State Governments were committed to spending $320 million on the Pacific Highway in the 2008/09 year under existing agreements.

"We also welcome announcements that $100 million will be brought forward to make an immediate start on the Ballina Bypass, and $15 million to begin the Bulahdelah Bypass," Cr Bennett said.

He said the focus would now shift to the State Government's response.

"We need to hear from State Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal how the State will match the Federal funding and exactly how much is allocated to Highway improvements," Cr Bennett said.

"And there also is the issue of Highway improvement between Woolgoolga and Ballina. It is statistically one of the worst sections of highway in the country."

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