PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Feb. 8, 2008) - Creating a road link between the nation’s two biggest cities, Lae and Port Moresby, has been the nationalists’ pipedream for decades.

The idea of linking the two halves of mainland Papua New Guinea with an all-weather road has attracted engineers, politicians and businesspeople, all with their own slant on things.

For politicians of course it would be a mighty attention-getter, an opportunity to win votes.

For businesses, it would open up new markets and reduce our reliance on aircraft and, to some extent, ships. Engineers would revel in the chance to take part in such a huge project with all the obvious challenges: Mountains, rivers, swamps and the like.

But the ultimate question is: Would it be worthwhile?

Do we need a trans-islands highway running for 170 kilometers to join up with the remnants at both ends and costing an estimated PGK3 billion [US$1 billion]?

The Tewai-Siassi MP, Vincent Michaels, gave some worthwhile advice to Parliament yesterday and reminded his peers that we were in dire straits trying to keep the existing provincial and national roads open and trafficable. Making sure that the existing roads were usable at all times would be cheaper and more likely to get good economic returns, he said.

Works and Transport Minister Don Polye, a qualified engineer, said the National Transport Development Plan catered for the maintenance of the national and provincial roads, a standard reply. But Mr. Polye is on record as being a supporter of the highway.

We believe that the idea must be given an exhaustive study before committing the nation’s budgetary resources and getting into a commitment that could deprive other areas of the country and other areas of the economy of the help they deserve.

Are we embarrassed that people overseas are astounded that our capital city is not connected by road to the rest of the country? Big deal, we say. Not all countries have to be the same.

And we haven’t even touched on the social implications of cheaper travel in and out of Moresby. It may well be that a financial and engineering study will find we could get better value for our budget kina if we beefed up the national airline with much-needed capital, if we revamped the coastal provinces’ wharves and jetties, and if we devoted more money to sound repair and maintenance budgeting to keep the existing roads in usable condition.

Think before we sink into a trans-island highway quagmire!

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