Cash splash

News of a mystery $200m cash injection for Hahndorf is both welcome and perplexing.
The funding – which will be boosted by a further $50m in State cash – must be one of the single biggest Federal commitments to the Hills since the construction of the Heysen Tunnels two decades ago.
But what is perhaps most remarkable about the funding is that no one – from the local Federal member to the Mt Barker Council to the State Infrastructure and Transport Minister – seems to be able to shed any light on exactly how the money will be spent.
There’s no doubt a two-way freeway interchange, tipped to be part of the project, is very much needed to improve access to the popular tourist town and help remove freight traffic from its main street.
But if the $27m Bald Hills Road interchange is anything to go by, the cost of increasing freeway access won’t even come close to the $250m in combined Federal and State funding earmarked for the entire project.
While any funding for the growing region is welcome – especially funding of that magnitude – it does beg the question of whether the money is actually going where it’s most needed.
Over the past few years the Mt Barker Council has worn a constant path to the doors of the State and Federal governments seeking funding for a long list of high-priority, shovel-ready projects to relieve the town’s growing pains – from the $31m wastewater treatment plant upgrade to the $50m by-pass road linking new housing estates.
Some projects have been funded in part over the last few years and an extra $5m for the Mt Barker aquatic centre as part of this year’s budget is certainly welcome.
But it is astounding that the Federal Government is so quick to offer – largely unsolicited – such an extraordinary sum for a project that isn’t shovel-ready, doesn’t appear to have been clearly defined and doesn’t appear to warrant such an extravagant budget.
Over the past six months, the Mt Barker Council has requested $5m for an upgrade of Hahndorf’s main street, while Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie asked for $15m for a freeway interchange upgrade – a total of $20m … or 10% of what has been offered.
It’s possible the key players have more information about the proposed plans than they are willing to admit and that the spend is justified. But taken at face value, it simply seems bizarre.
The $1m Hahndorf traffic study is set to be finished in the next three months and the community will no doubt be keenly anticipating its release.
It will be interesting to see the solutions it offers and how it will help justify such an extraordinary spend.