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Media Release


Threat to Pacific Highway Funding

The upgrade of the Pacific Highway is threatened by a controversial, two-billion-dollar freeway project in Melbourne, a transport lobby group has claimed.

The Victorian-based Public Transport Users Association has warned residents of the Central and North Coasts that the Victorian road lobby is seeking to divert most of the funds available under the Federal government's Roads of National Importance (RONI) program to the proposed Eastern Ring Road in Melbourne. The claim follows the announcement yesterday by Prime Minister John Howard of $220 million in Federal funding for the first stage of the ring road, and confirmation by Victorian Transport Minister Peter Batchelor that Victoria regards this sum as a "first instalment" only.

PTUA Secretary Vaughan Williams said that the Pacific Highway was currently the main beneficiary of the RONI scheme and its upgrade could be delayed or even abandoned if funds were diverted to freeways in Melbourne.

"The Pacific Highway was not included in the National Highway System when the NHS was defined in 1974; instead, the New England Highway was nominated as the national route from Sydney to Brisbane. However, most traffic continued to use the Pacific Highway, as was tragically illustrated in the Grafton and Kempsey bus accidents. The declaration of the Pacific Highway as a RONI was intended to rectify this problem."

The Federal government has allocated $1267 million for the RONI program for the next decade. $750 million of this budget, some 60%, is allocated for the Pacific Highway (the next largest project is the Princes Freeway between Melbourne and Geelong, with a Federal contribution of $120 million).1

"The proposed Melbourne Eastern Ring Road will cost approximately $2 billion in total, and the Victorian government is asking the Federal government to pay half the cost. The Federal government has announced $220 million for the first stage, but then the Victorian road lobby will ask for another $800 million to fund the remainder of the Eastern Ring Road. This would consume some 80% of the RONI budget for the next decade and leave virtually nothing available for other projects like the Pacific Highway." Mr. Williams said.

"It is possible that the Federal government could agree to contribute to the Eastern Ring Road by increasing RONI funding, but this is unlikely. The Federal government has already boosted road funding through the Roads to Recovery program announced last November, and has recently abolished the indexation of petrol excise, leaving less funds available for roads. Opposition Transport Spokesman Martin Ferguson has confirmed this, telling a Conference in Perth on 1st May that Labor would not be able to increase overall Federal road funding. So the only way the Melbourne Eastern Ring Road can be funded is by diverting funding from the Pacific Highway upgrade," said Mr Williams.

"The RONI program was established to fund inter-city roads and roads in remote areas, the rationale being that local communities in regional areas lack the resources to fund roads of this kind. Residents of large capital cities are supposed to fund internal roads themselves: this is why roads like Brisbane's City-Valley Bypass and Sydney's Eastern Distributor are not RONIs."

Mr Williams said that many local residents and councils in Melbourne were opposed to the Eastern Ring Road, but that Federal politicians were being urged by the Victorian road lobby to fund the project in the lead-up to the forthcoming by-election in the seat of Aston, which is the site of the Scoresby Freeway reservation.

Mr Williams called on local councils and MP's in the North Coast to protect the integrity of RONI funding and secure the upgrade of the Pacific Highway by reversing the Howard decision and guaranteeing that no RONI funding will be diverted to the Melbourne Eastern Ring Road. He also called on Opposition Leader Kim Beazley to match the guarantee.

"If the Victorian road lobby succeeds in diverting Pacific Highway funding to freeways in Melbourne, other state capitals will expect the same treatment. The result will be more pollution in our cities and more accidents on country roads. People in the North Coast need to make sure that their MPs protect their interests," concluded Mr Williams.

1 Figures from Auditor-Generals Report 21 of 2000-01, Management of the National Highway System Program, pp. 20-24.

PTUA Office 9650 7898

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Last Modified: 14 May 2001