Nats say no to highway tolls

Nationals deputy leader Don Page and leader Andrew Stoner made a united stand in Ballina on Tuesday, saying their party opposed any attempt to toll the upgraded Pacific Highway.

The NSW Opposition has vowed to fight the introduction of tolls on the upgraded Pacific Highway following widespread community anger over the suggestion.

Nationals leader Andrew Stoner visited Ballina on Tuesday to meet with deputy leader Don Page and show a united front against a proposal by the NSW Government to impose tolls as a way of fast-tracking the highway upgrade.

Tolling the Pacific Highway would be an abrogation of the NSW Labor Governments responsibilities to properly fund the highway upgrade, Mr Stoner said. Tolls are a convenient way for the government to avoid publicly funding the road and shift costs to road users who already pay taxes.

Don Page said tolls would have to be very high for the road to be profitable for private sector investors as traffic density in regional areas is considerably lower than on city roads.

The private sector has to get 12-15 per cent return on its investment. The public sector can fund the road and get social and road safety benefits, Mr Page said. With judicious borrowing, the public sector can deliver an upgrade at a reasonable price without any tolls.

Both MPs said they wanted to see a feasibility study of an inland route and expressed concern over the RTAs route selections and the Claytons consultation processes to publicly justify decisions after the event.

Mr Page said local communities were being kept in the dark on the tolling proposal.

There is no detail on how much it would cost or how it would work, he said. Suggestions of a motorway rather than a divided dual carriageway are of significant concern to residents too. A motorway implies a six-lane highway our community wants a divided dual carriageway that does not require residents to pay a toll on top of their taxes.

NSW Roads Minister Joe Tripodi responded by calling on Don Page and Andrew Stoner to stop their scaremongering over the highway upgrade.

Accusing them of hiding behind lies Mr Tripodi said the recently signed agreement between the state and federal governments to investigate a North Coast Motorway specified that a free alternative for local traffic would be provided.

Meanwhile NSW Transport Workers Union spokesman Sam Crosby expressed his opposition to the possibility of a $70 one-way toll for trucks to fund the highway upgrade.

Although the upgrade is essential, this massive toll would mean truck drivers and the general public would be paying for the road twice over, he said.

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