Black Spot and rest area funds in limbo

Almost 100 Black Spot projects may be scrapped if Rudd Government fails to pass its Nation Building Program Amendment Bill

By Brad Gardner

Almost 100 Black Spot projects may be scrapped if the Rudd Government fails to pass its Nation Building Program Amendment Bill.

The Government has circulated a list of 89 Black Spot projects it says are in limbo if the Coalition opposes a move to expand the program, which is responsible for upgrading dangerous sections of roads.

The Government has promised funding for projects on national routes such as the Sturt, Hume, Bruce, Pacific and Newell highways, but needs the Bill passed to begin construction.

The Bill extends the Black Spot program’s coverage from local roads to the national network, while also amending the Roads to Recovery program to increase funding grants.

"I urge the Coalition to rethink their (sic) position," Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says.

But opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss has refused to back an extension of the Black Spot program, arguing the national network already receives sufficient funding.

In a doorstop interview this morning, Truss told reporters the Coalition would amend the Bill when it was introduced in the Senate.

"The changes we’re proposing are to prevent Labor from changing the Black Spots program and the Rural Strategic Roads program," Truss says.

The Government, through its Bill, wants to rename the AusLink Strategic Regional Project the Nation Building Program Off-Network Project, leading to accusations from Truss that it is an attempt to funnel money from regional projects into urban areas because the word 'regional' will be scrapped.

"They are turning it into a Labor slush fund to pay for their election promises," he says.

But a spokesman for Albanese claims there is no proof the Government will strip money from regional projects because $619 million of the $650 million allocated to the Nation Building Program Off-Network Project will be invested in regional areas.

Another list of projects released by the Government claims heavy vehicle rest areas and level crossing upgrades will also be affected if the Bill is defeated.

But a spokesman for Truss says the projects, which include the Tarcutta Bypass, Geelong Ring Road and Townsville Port Access Road, are not at risk because funding has been allocated.

"These projects will already be funded under current Budget processes," the spokesman says.

Unless the Coalition alters its position, the Government will need the support of the Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and Independent Nick Xenophon to pass the Bill.

Albanese’s office has rejected concerns an extension of the Black Spot program will result in local areas being neglected in favour of big-ticket items on the national network.

"The actual intention of the Black Spot program remains the same," Albanese’s spokesman says.

The Bill has been sent to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee, which will report on its findings on June 15.

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