New call to turn Pacific Highway into a toll road
A PROPOSAL for a toll to pay for more than $6.4 billion in New South Wales upgrades for the Pacific Highway has been raised again, after the highway topped a list of the most urgent national infrastructure priorities on Tuesday
The highway was among four national projects to get top ranking as a "ready to proceed" status from Infrastructure Australia in its 2013 report to the Council of Australian Governments.
It comes after more than $900 million was allocated to the project by the New South Wales Government's latest budget, a crucial factor in the top-level ranking.
The NSW Government submission to IA has again proposed an 80:20 funding split between the Commonwealth and NSW, to the tune of $6.4 billion to 2010 estimates, despite the Commonwealth wanting a 50:50 split.
However, the national ranking body has again recommended putting a "corridor wide toll" on the road to fund for upgrades applied across the entire highway, despite previous state government declarations of no tolls on new roads.
The suggestion was made in 2011, but after sparking the ire of the community, was largely dropped. Until now.
NRMA chief executive Wendy Machin hit out at the idea, saying it was unrealistic to place a toll on an existing highway.
"If this was a new road maybe, but this is a highway that is finally a bit more than half-built - now we've paid for it, you're asking us to pay for it again?" she said.
Ms Machin said the majority of traffic on the highway continued to be local, with North Coast residents travelling from town to town, rather than long trips up and down the coast.
She said not only would it be difficult to implement such a toll, but motorists already paid both levels of government through fuel taxes and registration fees.
On the funding fight between the state and federal government, Ms Machin said it was time for both parties to sit down and work out a real agreement.
"People are very tired over the squabbling over who's going to do what," she said.
"The local community is certainly sick of it - and I think we need to rise above that (the politics) and recognise we need to finish it, or at least commit to finishing it, by 2016.
"We know that's increasingly unlikely but we still need a line in the sand - otherwise it just draws out and it will never be done."
The IA report also recommended realignments for the highway to share transport corridors with part of the North Coast Rail Line and an access agreement to be negotiated for high productivity vehicles.
Nationally, the report shows the direst needs seem to be to ease congestion in the major cities.
While it made mention of the need for investment through the Regional Investment Fund, the $2 billion previously allocated to the fund was stripped from the Federal Government's May budget.
IA chairman Sir Rod Eddington made several key recommendations, including establishing a "single national infrastructure fund" and moving away from grants to encourage private investment.
But one of the four recommendations was to privatise a range of Commonwealth assets, in a bid to raise more than $100 billion in funding for government coffers.
Assets now put on the table for privatisation included metropolitan and rural water assets, numerous major ports, the National Electricity Market and "various regional airports".
Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said all "ready to proceed" projects, including the Pacific Hwy, had received funding, despite the funding stalemate remaining.
Sir Rod said there were challenges in pursuing such changes, as "the community is wary of change" and governments had been reluctant to make the case for such change.
Would you pay a toll to use the Pacific Highway if it meant the upgrade was completed faster?
This poll ended on 04 July 2013.
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.