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Media Release


NSW Bypassed as Howard Funds $billion Melbourne Freeway

Sydney motorists face tolls while Melbourne gets free ring-road
Pacific Highway upgrade now in jeopardy

Melbourne-based transport and environment groups are warning that New South Wales has been ripped off by the Federal Government, which yesterday announced that it will pay half the cost of the first stage of a two-billion-dollar ring-freeway in Melbourne.

The Public Transport Users Association and Environment Victoria, which oppose the Melbourne Eastern Ring Road, have issued the warning to prevent residents of NSW being kept in the dark.

John Howard announced yesterday that his government would pay half the cost of the billion-dollar Scoresby Freeway, which forms the first stage of Melbourne's proposed Eastern Ring Road. With the Victorian government covering the other half of the cost, the road would not have tolls.

Melbourne already has a toll-free Western Ring Road that was fully funded to the tune of a billion dollars by the Federal government between 1989 and 1997. The Howard government recently agreed to fully fund the widening and upgrade of this road.

PTUA President Dr. Paul Mees said the funding announcement was unfair to residents of Western Sydney, who have to fund three-quarters of the cost of the $1.25 billion Western Sydney Orbital through tolls.

"The Eastern suburbs of Melbourne are a middle-class area with the lowest unemployment in the State. There is no equity justification for these areas getting a free road while residents of Western Sydney have to pay. This is pork-barrelling to appeal to voters in marginal seats in Melbourne's East," he said.

Dr. Mees also said the diversion of funding to the Scoresby Freeway meant the Pacific Highway upgrade was now unlikely to be completed at all, let alone within the promised timeframe.

"The Pacific Highway is currently the main beneficiary of the Federal Roads of National Importance (RONI) program, under which the Scoresby Freeway funding is to be paid. 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).

"The money allocated for the Scoresby Freeway would otherwise have been spent on the Pacific Highway upgrade, which will now have to be postponed. The upgrade may have to be cancelled altogether if the Victorian road lobby gets its way. The proposed Melbourne Eastern Ring Road will cost approximately $2 billion, and Howard has agreed to fund the first stage. But then the Victorians will ask for another $500 million to fund the remainder of the Eastern Ring Road. This would leave virtually nothing available for other projects like the Pacific Highway.

"It is possible that the Federal government could agree to contribute to the Eastern Ring Road by increasing overall 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."

Environment Victoria's Ben Smith 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 election.

Mr. Smith called on the Carr government, and Labor leader Kim Beazley, to stand up against this rip-off of residents of New South Wales.

"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 Western Sydney, the Central Coast and the North Coast need to make sure that their MPs protect their interests," he concluded.

PTUA Office 9650 7898

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Last Modified: 10 October 2001