Motorists could face paying a toll on the Pacific Highway to ensure the Hexham-to-Queensland stretch is upgraded to a dual carriageway by 2016.
Infrastructure Australia, the federal infrastructure advisory body, has suggested the pay-as-you-drive approach after revealing the cost of finishing the highway upgrade has blown out to between $8billion and $9billion.
The tollway strategy could extend the length of the east-Australian corridor, taking in the Hume and Bruce highways, and could also be applied to the New England Highway, the Infrastructure Australia report said.
Older motorists will probably remember the tolls that applied on the Pacific Highway between Newcastle and Sydney (the F3 freeway) between 1965 and 1988. The toll was lifted when the road was considered fully funded.
The new Infrastructure Australia report acknowledged some people may consider the toll proposal ‘‘controversial or perhaps unfair’’.
The NRMA has been one of the first to condemn the suggestion, arguing governments should simply honour their commitments to duplicate the Pacific Highway.
NRMA Hunter director Kyle Loades said motorists were already slugged with urban road tolls and levies and did not want to pay more.
A NSW coroner recommended the duplication of the Pacific Highway in 1989 following the Grafton and Kempsey bus crashes.
The project is about half completed.
In its report, Infrastructure Australia said the federal and state governments would ‘‘find it challenging’’ to pay for the upgrade and finish it by the 2016 deadline.
Further works at Coffs Harbour and the link from the F3 to Raymond Terrace could add a further $1billion to the ballooning costs.
The state government is already under pressure to match a federal commitment of $750million in new funding.
A spokesman for NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay said the government had not ruled a toll out ‘‘but it is not in our plans’’.
‘‘Before any decision is made it is something that would have to go to cabinet,’’ he said.
Labor spokesman for regional infrastructure Mick Veitch said the Coalition had campaigned to fast-track Pacific Highway improvements and should find the money.