Article – Highway of hell becomes the road of riches

by 27 July 2013

Jason Tin
17 July 2013
The Courier-Mail

ALMOST 70 blackspots on the Bruce Highway would be fixed in the next decade under a multi-billiondollar plan to be announced by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

In a major political salvo fired over the Bruce Highway, which is shaping as a key federal election issue in Queensland, Mr Abbott has unveiled a $6.7 billion plan in an attempt to trump Labor’s existing commitment.

The Coalition will enter into an 80-20 funding deal with the State Government to inject a total of $8.5 billion into the troubled highway in the next decade.

In comparison, Labor has promised to spend $4.1 billion in the next 10 years, bringing its total commitment to $5.7 billion.

Mr Abbott will today announce the policy in Mackay, alongside Opposition transport spokesman Warren Truss.

The Sunday Mail and The Courier-Mail this week launched the “Fix the Bruce” campaign to draw attention to the poor state of the highway and highlight the political buck-passing and squabbling that have stifled progress for decades.

The RACQ and State Government claim an $11 billion funding deal would bring the 1700km road up to an “acceptable engineering standard”.

The Bruce runs through 11 electorates, including a number of marginal seats, meaning both parties’ policies will be weighed up by voters frustrated by decades of inaction.

Federal Labor has repeatedly pointed out that just $1.3 billion was spent on the Bruce Highway by the Howard government – a fraction of the amount spent during Labor’s considerably shorter time in government.

The Coalition had previously hinted it would at the very least match the Federal Government’s offer.

Mr Abbott’s policy includes almost 70 projects, including the completion of section C of the Cooroy to Curra stretch, at a cost of $808 million.

The $481 million Edmonton to Gordonvale duplication is included on the projects list. Mr Abbott said his plan will “fix the Bruce Highway, not just patch it.” “The Bruce Highway is not only the lifeline of Queensland but it is the gateway to Northern Australia,” he said “’This commitment is an integral part of the Coalition’s real action plan for Queensland. We won’t just talk about fixing the Bruce Highway, we will actually do it.” But the bulk of the money promised will be spent during the back end of the 10-year period, with $2.1 billion to be spent over the next four years. The remaining $4.6 billion will be spent over the next six years.

Mr Rudd yesterday indicated Labor’s $4.1 billion Bruce Highway commitment may not be his final offer, saying the policy was being kept “under review”.

“We will always keep our commitments under review, consistent with budget integrity and budget discipline,” Mr Rudd told The Courier-Mail in an exclusive interview. “But the record is strong.” The Prime Minister said the highway was a “central election challenge” at a national level. “On the Bruce Highway, the Labor Government has invested four times as much, in half the time in office (as the Howard government) – that’s a fact, no one can dispute that,” he said.

Mr Rudd said the Federal Government’s “ultimate objective” was to make the Bruce Highway a dual carriageway along its full length, but warned Queenslanders they would have to wait a long time.

He said he costed the upgrade of the entire Bruce Highway while Prime Minister in 2008 – arriving at a figure of $60 billion to $65 billion.

That amount, he said, would include making the highway at least four lanes from Brisbane to Cairns.

“The objective is to, obviously, create an M1 from Melbourne to Cairns which is dual-carriageway all the way it’s just going to take us a while to get there and I want to be honest with people about that,” he said.

Mr Rudd said his government was committed to fixing the highway irrespective of whether doing so would attract votes or not.

“Remember, we are upgrading the Bruce in parts of the Bruce where there are no votes in it at all for the Australian Labor Party,” he said, pointing to upgrade work in Warren Truss’s seat of Wide Bay, a “rocksolid, safe National Party electorate”.

Premier Campbell Newman said the policy proved his federal colleagues were committed to bringing the highway up to standard.

“Whether you live in north Queensland or in Brisbane, or anywhere in between, under a federal Coalition, improvements will be coming to your section of the Bruce Highway,” Mr Newman said.

An average of 9000 vehicles per kilometre use the highway daily, with more than 80 per cent having one lane carrying traffic in each direction. More than 300 people have died on the road since the start of 2006.

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