Highway upgrade pledge falls short
FEDERAL Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has stopped short of a full commitment to complete the Pacific Highway dual carriageway upgrade by 2016.
Speaking in Goonellabah, where he was opening a new skate park on Saturday morning, Mr Albanese fielded a barrage of questions on infrastructure, but his only promise was to complete 85 per cent of the dual carriageway between Melbourne and Brisbane by 2014.
He did not say how much of the North Coast section would be left unfinished, though it is understood that only 75 per cent of the Sydney to the Queensland border will be finished.
When pushed he said the Federal Government could not be held to account for the previous government's 'de-funding' of the project, but he remained committed to the full duplication of the Pacific Highway by 2016.
“We're putting our money where our mouth is - $3.1 billion has been allocated … and that is all going towards meeting our objective of 2016 for full completion,” Mr Albanese said.
“I am concerned about comments from the Federal Opposition, who have said if elected they would wind back infrastructure spending, which is why I call on Mr Turnbull to state which infrastructure he would wind back on.”
At present, less than half of the dual carriageway between Newcastle and the Queensland border has been completed.
Last week, the coroner for the Cowper and Kempsey bus crashes in 1989 criticised governments for 'pussyfooting around and squabbling over who pays for what'. Three people have died on the highway in NSW in the last three weeks.
Speculation that the project won't make the deadline has been escalating since the NRMA estimated the full cost would be $6.7 billion.
Federal shadow transport minister Warren Truss has blamed a lack of investment by the NSW Government, which has only committed $500 million. He also quoted infrastructure department secretary Mike Mrdak as telling the Senate estimates committee 'it would take at least' that much.
Mr Mrdak later corrected this, saying he had got a date wrong and that the Government retained its 'objective of full duplication by 2016'.
Mr Albanese also said he had assurances from NSW Transport Minister David Campbell that the Casino-Murwillumbah line would not be broken up before a feasibility study into linking it with south-east Queensland services was completed.
Federal Page MP Janelle Saffin said the State legislation included a proviso tracks had to be disused for 15 years before they could be removed. The Casino-Murwillumbah line has been closed for four years.