Plans to duplicate a busy Port Stephens road had “an ambitious timetable” when the incumbent premier promised millions for the project 10 days before the last state election, the NSW parliamentary secretary for the Hunter says.
But Scot MacDonald rejects the idea that the government has backflipped on its pledge to spend $70 million to upgrade Nelson Bay Road between 2015 and 2019.
That’s despite less than nine per cent of the funding having been handed over, with 12 months until the next election, and the bulk of the money now likely to be delivered from 2020/21.
“I’m confident that the promise and the commitment is underway,” he said. “I would like to see it happening faster, I completely agree with that, and I understand the public questioning that.”
In March, 2015, then-premier Mike Baird promised the funding, which was included in the government’s record of commitments to be delivered in that term.
Fairfax Media reported this week that an internal Roads and Maritime Service document from late 2016, obtained by Labor under freedom of information law, showed that only a tiny fraction of the money – $226,000 – would be spent before 2020/21.
Mr MacDonald said he had successfully lobbied for another $6 million before 2020/21.
When asked on Friday why he thought the government hadn’t broken its commitment, considering the $70 million would not be delivered in the promised period, Mr MacDonald said: “I think it’d be broken if we walked away from [the project]”.
“Yes, it is frustrating that it’s taking longer than we hoped. I will certainly maintain the pressure on RMS to continue the roll-out of those projects,” he said.
“I’ve asked RMS to do a full corridor study. Then I think we have a frank conversation with the community about the extent of the work that needs to be done, the cost of that work and then what realistic timetable we can deliver.”
Port Stephens’ independent mayor Ryan Palmer said Nelson Bay Road had “ever increasing traffic”.
“Council values its relationship with the state government and will continue to push for Nelson Bay Road to be upgraded, particularly with the growth around the airport,” he said.
When questions were sent to roads minister Melinda Pavey this week regarding the election promise, her office responded with a statement from an unnamed RMS spokesperson.