Premier Mike Baird has committed the NSW government to a multimillion-dollar upgrade of the Riverina Highway on his first visit to Albury since rising to the state’s top job.
The Liberal leader yesterday made the surprise pledge of a still-to be-confirmed $5 million to begin improvements to the road next year after it was overlooked in the recent NSW budget.
Mr Baird also made time available last night to meet local mayors Kevin Mack, Fred Longmire and Heather Wilton, after the opportunity for one-on-one discussions with the Premier had earlier been ruled out due to his tight schedule.
The lack of funding for the Riverina Highway in the budget had been criticised by Cr Mack and Cr Longmire.
Mr Baird said last night Roads Minister Duncan Gay would be making an announcement about the Riverina Highway soon.
“There is a report coming in terms of the scoping and profiling and timing of the upgrade,” he said.
“Mr Gay will be making announcements in coming weeks, but we will be making a commitment that we will be starting that from next year.”
“It is long overdue.”
Mr Baird said the funding commitment wasn’t linked to his party’s prospects at next year’s NSW election.
Cr Mack’s criticism of the absence of budget funding for a section near Lake Hume had sparked a heated reaction from member for Albury Greg Aplin.
Mr Baird said his government would also consider contributing funds to Albury’s $10.5 million art gallery project.
The city’s ratepayers are contributing $7 million to the project after the state government was unable to match the $3.5 million given by the former Labor federal government.
Mr Baird said he was aware of the project, which is due for completion in mid-next year.
“We are committed to developing cultural facilities not just in the centre of Sydney, but across regional NSW,” he said.
“You need them to drive the cities and regional centres.”
Mr Baird said he had no issues meeting local mayors and spent 10 minutes with each of them last night.
“There are demands on my time, but I should always make time available to meet community leaders,” he said.
“I will meet them while I am here.
“I want to meet as many people as possible and understand the issues important to them.
“If it’s important to them, it is as important to me.”