Expectations for 2020 start date are fading
A FEDERAL budget and state government reshuffle have produced renewed concerns for the Coffs Harbour bypass.
The 2020 start date has come into question with budget papers referring to it as an 'expected' start date only, and there were no additional funds earmarked for the project in this week's federal budget beyond the previously allocated $971 million.
The State Government Cabinet reshuffle following the March 23 election has created further uncertainty.
The Coffs Bypass Action Group is still trying to come to terms with what the changes to State Government departments and their relevant ministers mean for the project, and were disappointed with Tuesday night's federal budget.
"We know that $971 million was put aside in a previous budget but we had hoped there would be confirmation that our bypass would be funded to have proper bored or drill and blast tunnels and the pledge to spend $25 million on the entire project in 2019-2020 would be increased," action group co-communications chair Cheryl Cooper said.
The action group seriously doubts the long-promised 2020 start date.
"We have a new Minister in Paul Toole and hope he will be more forthcoming than his predecessor Melinda Pavey, however we have also heard the RMS is to be merged under the main Transport Portfolio so have no idea what that might mean for this project and whether it also throws the planned start date into question.
"Certainly, we do not expect it to start in the promised 2020 much to the disappointment of the people of Coffs Harbour, who have waited so long for this road," Ms Cooper said.
Labor candidate for Cowper Andrew Woodward has also raised the alarm.
"So, there's no extra money for tunnels? And only $25 million will be spent by the federal government on the bypass until June 30, 2020 - putting any start date in the second half of the year - if it happens at all. And the budget paper also hides the completion date of the project," Mr Woodward said.
The renewed commitment to tunnels also continues to be questioned by the action group.
"We are still hearing of senior ministers referring to major cuttings with land bridges as tunnels and we know the RMS is continuing to work on what they call the 'current' plan. The only plan we have seen is the September 2018 concept plan and that is major cuttings," Ms Cooper said.
The new Consultative Communications Committee announced in January to help guide the project will not meet for the first time until April 26 and is likely to be no more than a meet and greet which means nothing will be done before the federal election.
"I think it comes down to politics. We are a National strong hold and therefore not a priority. You can see road spending is mostly in marginal electorates. People here have been loyal to the Nationals and this is how they are repaid.
"At the end of the day, in comparison to Australia, we are seen as an insignificant speck and the senior politicians will congratulate themselves on finishing this project, one day, irrespective of whether it disadvantages the many people who live here or not."