Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pacific Highway Promises A Road To Nowhere

The Pacific Highway has been a national embarrassment for far too long. I t has been twenty years now it was first proposed that the highway should be upgraded to divided dual carriage way along its entire length, and the original recommendation was that it should be completed within ten years. Instead, we have been promised by State and Federal governments that the job will be done by 2016. Unfortunately, the available evidence suggests that this is just not going to happen.

A report complied by the NRMA shows that after twenty years of promises and with a little over six years to go, only about half the work has been completed. Of the projects to upgrade individual sections of the highway 56 out of 93 have been completed. A comparison of 25 of those projects shows that eight were completed ahead of schedule, while the remaining 17 were late. The NRMA report finds that the 2016 completion date is “unlikely to be achieved without an injection of accelerated funding”. At this rate we could be forgiven for believing that we are not going to see it in our lifetime.

The fact is that the Pacific Highway is one of the most important stretches of road in Australia, and some would say it’s in the top two. This is Highway Number One, and it is not only vital for commerce, but it is also heavily used by tourists. The fact is that it should have been completed years ago, and the only reason it hasn’t been is the lack of commitment by successive governments at both levels. The constant haggling over who should pay for what is a perennial obstacle, and the cynical cycle of making politically expedient promises before elections, only to have them later delayed, has been a repeated frustration.

The recent enthusiasm for spending Commonwealth funds on infrastructure as part of the strategy to combat the Global Financial Crisis should have been an opportunity to dramatically accelerate the program. While some parts of the highway have benefited from the economic stimulus spending, much of the opportunity has been lost. The official explanation for this is that the necessary planning was not sufficiently advanced to attract the funding, but the real question is why not? After all these years there has certainly been more than enough time to have all the planning un place, so that the work is ready to go as soon as the funding becomes available.

Of course, with half of the work already done, many parts of the highway are magnificent. But other parts remain diabolical, which would be bad enough on any regional road, but on the nation’s Number One Highway it’s just unacceptable. With all of the road taxes, petrol taxes, registration fees and so forth collected each year, there has been no shortage of money either, just a shortage of commitment to actually spend it on roads, instead of politicians’ study tours to Europe.

At least that means they know what a decent road looks like, even if the rest of us don’t get to see it.

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