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Mt Barker good news descends into chaos

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In a state election campaign where the Liberals are pushing their close ties to Canberra, yesterday’s announcement of immediate action on new infrastructure for Mt Barker should have been easy pickings for leader Steven Marshall.

However, according to Labor, the Liberal announcement missed some crucial detail from the Federal Government, prompting Labor to accuse the state Liberals of a communication breakdown with their national counterparts.

Yesterday, Marshall and local MP Mark Goldsworthy announced a commitment to build a second freeway interchange near Mt Barker to support the growing town.

Their deal included $16 million previously promised by the area’s local MP and federal assistant infrastructure minister Jamie Briggs, $7.9 million from the State Government and $3 million from the local council.

However, apparently unknown to the state Liberals, just last week federal senior infrastructure minister and Briggs’ portfolio boss, Warren Truss, had agreed to a proposal from the State Government to fund not only the new interchange but a significant upgrade to the existing interchange at Adelaide Road.

Truss wrote to state infrastructure minister Tom Koutsantonis on 12 February which, on the face of it, appears to agree to a state request to redirect $8 million previously devoted to an  Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) for the freeway and commit those funds to a bigger and better interchange project – bringing the total project cost to $34.9 million.

However, that interpretation is strongly contested by Briggs who says the total federal funding commitment to the project will be $16 million – and not a cent more.

Briggs told InDaily that the Truss letter was being misunderstood by Koutsantonis.

The letter, seen by InDaily, notes the Federal Government’s reaffirmed election commitment to contribute $16 million towards the interchange.

It then says: “I am satisfied that the proposed project will meet the objectives of the Infrastructure Investment Programme and agree to the reallocation of $8 million Australian Government funding previously committed from the Advanced Traffic Management System project to the Bald Hills Road interchange and to upgrade the Adelaide Road Interchange”.

But Briggs says this isn’t additional money – and that Truss was simply agreeing for the ATMS allocation to be used as part of the $16 million.

When asked about the Adelaide Road upgrade, Briggs said he wasn’t sure how that got into the letter.

“I agree that line is confusing,” he said.

“We don’t believe we should spend more than $16 million on the Bald Hills Road project.”

Koutsantonis said he was astounded at this interpretation.

“There’s no confusion – the Deputy Prime Minister (Truss) and I have a deal,” he said.

He said the situation showed that Labor could get a better deal out of Canberra than the Liberals.

“Canberra understands an argument based on good science and good outcomes – it’s not about playing nice,” he said.

Apart from the political argy bargy, Mt Barker residents will be pleased to finally see some action on a second interchange for the rapidly expanding town.

The project put to Truss by the State Government includes constructing stage one of the new interchange (west facing ramps). The second part includes significant improvements to the safety and capacity of the existing interchange at Mt Barker – a project which appears to be in jeopardy after Brigg’s comments this morning..

The need for a second interchange has been on the agenda for years.

When the State Government announced the controversial expansion of the town in December 2010, it set out the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the growth.

That infrastructure included a new freeway interchange at the intersection of Bald Hills Rd and an upgrade to the existing interchange.

Work appears likely to begin on the new interchange next financial year, no matter who wins the state election. Labor says that under its plan construction is likely to be completed in 2016.

The Liberals say plans for stage one of the project will be finalised immediately, followed by work with the federal government and the local council to deliver the upgrade.

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