The Pacific Highway Taskforce has urged both the Federal and State governments to quickly sign a new funding agreement for improving the Pacific Highway.

Chair of the Pacific Highway Taskforce, Cr Ernie Bennett, pictured, said it was clear from a meeting with State Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal in Sydney last week that negotiations for funding beyond 2009 between the governments were at a crucial stage.

“The governments are negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding – and it’s important that happens as quickly as possible to avoid cost blow outs on construction,” Cr Bennett said.

Cr Bennett said the Federal Government had committed $2.45 billion to upgrading the highway to safer dual carriageway standard between 2009 and 2014 – and the Taskforce now was waiting for the State Government to announce its contribution.

“The Federal Government is to be congratulated for its commitment – and we still are waiting to see what the State Government can afford,” he said.

“Mr Roozendaal was very clear that there is not a huge amount of money available at a State level.

“We are reaching the stage where the traditional approach of the State and Federal governments for matching funding may be unachievable.”

Cr Bennett said that because of the reality that the Federal Government raised most of the taxation in Australia, a new funding regime may be appropriate.

The Taskforce supports changing the funding formula to require the Federal Government to contribute 75% of the cost of the highway upgrade – leaving 25% to come from the State Government.

“This funding formula recognises that the Federal Government has access to significant taxation streams, including the fuel excise,” Cr Bennett said.

Cr Bennett said that currently the Federal Government collected over $14 billion from road users each year and returned around $4 billion.

“The Federal Government has the capacity to pitch in a greater share of funding to see this vital project finished,” he said.

* The Pacific Highway Taskforce membership is made up of 18 councils in coastal northern NSW, and the NRMA Motoring Services.