New South Wales government turns out the light on Blue Mountains Freeway

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

New South Wales location in Australia

The New South Wales government has refused a federal government plan to conduct an engineering, planning and environmental assessment for a freeway across the Blue Mountains following the Bells Line of Road. Prime Minister John Howard announced AU$10 million of funding for the study, contingent upon a matching contribution by the NSW government.

Just hours after the announcement, NSW Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal turned out the light on the proposal by calling it a "blatant election stunt by a desperate prime minister".

Roozendaal speculated that the federal government would not, in the end, provide financial support for the project. "The reality is this project cannot be built without significant federal support and the Howard government has no intention of giving it, despite a multi-billion dollar surplus," said Roozendaal, and went on to quote federal minister for roads Jim Lloydas, who called the proposed Blue Mountains freeway a "very ambitious project" as recently as February.

The NSW Roads minister said the $20 million for a study would be better used to improve safety on local roads in Central Western NSW.

However, supporters of the project have called on the NSW government to match the $10 million contribution and move forward. "Research commissioned by the Bells Line Expressway Group (BLEG) found communities along the state's central west and western Sydney would benefit if the Bells Line Expressway were built," said Graham Blight, NRMA Motoring & Services regional director. "The Bells Line Expressway will provide a major economic boost for Sydney and western NSW, and ease the population pressure on Sydney by making housing west of the mountains more accessible to employment in western Sydney," he continued.

Roozendaal has dismissed the BLEG study, released early in 2006, which projected the overall cost of the Bells Line of Road Expressway to be $2 billion.

Roozendaal also said that he would not take up the offer to repeat a study which had been done two years ago. "The NSW government will not waste $10 million of taxpayers' money to repeat a study which was only done two years ago." He was referring to a feasibility study released in November 2005 by state and federal governments, which found that the Bells Line of Road Expressway would require tolls of up to $150 for cars and $300 for trucks.

Former federal Labor MP and current NRMA director Gary Punch echoed Graham Blight's assessment. "The Bells Line Expressway would be a fantastic resource for towns and suburbs across the Blue Mountains because it would free them from highly dense traffic snarls, especially on weekends," said Punch. "This funding commitment today takes us one step closer to this goal," he said in reference to the PM's $10 million offer.

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"Protesters turn their backs on Australian PM" — Wikinews, 25 May, 2007