TASMANIA'S busiest road would be widened to four lanes under an ambitious 20-year plan announced yesterday - an idea Premier David Bartlett rubbished last year as "unrealistic".
Mr Bartlett said yesterday that the state government would lobby Canberra to provide most of the $2 billion needed.
Last year Mr Bartlett declared that the federal government would "never fund" the duplication of the Midland Highway.
The four-lane plan announced yesterday is part of the Midland Highway partnership agreement between the state government and seven councils.
"I'm very confident that Tasmanians working together, the state government and seven local governments working together, have the best chance of securing further funds in future years for this national highway."
His comments are a stark contrast to his response to the Liberal Party's proposal for a four-lane highway, which was a central plank of the opposition's election platform.
"There is no point going to the federal government and asking for $2 billion for a highway that they will never fund ... where there are hundreds of other highways in Australia that would get funding before that based on traffic movements alone," he said in August last year.
Mr Bartlett dodged questions about his change of heart yesterday.
"My previous comments have been that when the data and evidence and traffic flows warrant it, four lanes should be built ... I've been clear on that and absolutely rock-solid on that from day one every day I've talked about the Midland Highway," he said.
It is unlikely that work on the duplication would occur until the final stages of the 20-year plan.
In the meantime, upgrades to improve safety will be given priority including:
Improved access to Symmons Plain raceway ($30 million).
Mona Vale Road realignment ($30 million).
Shoulder sealing along the corridor ($50 million).
A Perth bypass, connecting the Midland Highway, Illawarra Main Road and Southern Outlet and costing up to $210 million, is also on the list to be completed in 10 to 25 years.
Launceston Mayor Albert van Zetten welcomed the commitments.
"The important thing is to make it safe," he said.
He said the road was not yet busy enough to justify four lanes along the entire 177-kilometre stretch, but he expected projected increases in traffic volumes to make duplication necessary by 2030.
The highway, which links the state's North and South, carries 20,000 vehicles a day at its busiest points.
Northern Midlands Mayor Kim Polley said the section near Launceston Airport was a priority for widening.