17 Nov ROAD UPGRADES FOR NW QLD’S FREIGHT ROUTES NEED TO SHIFT INTO HIGH GEAR
The cancellation of dozens of road infrastructure projects by the federal government is not deterring Traeger MP and Leader of the Katter’s Australian Party, Robbie Katter, from leading the charge to see one of the North West’s key freight routes getting a serious overhaul.
The Flinders Highway, which runs west from Townsville to Cloncurry, joining with the Barkly Highway to complete the journey to Mount Isa, carries more than 180,000 trailers a year already, but is set to see an exponential growth in traffic as the development of renewable projects and mineral exploration kicks into high gear.
Mr Katter said the conditions of the road are not fit for purpose for the current usage, let alone for significant increase in heavy vehicles.
”Rickety bridges with speed limits as low as 20km/h along the Flinders Highway between Townsville and Mount Isa, are symbolic of the overall absence of care and attention paid by the State government to rural and regional transport infrastructure,” he said.
“The movement of billions of dollars of product travelling a major arterial route connecting the resource-rich North West Minerals Province to the rest of the world is grinding to a halt because of the disgraceful conditions of this national highway and it’s going to get worse,” he said.
“The state government wants to develop a Critical Minerals industry, develop Copperstring and build GW’s of wind and solar farms, but this highway is already falling part – there is no way it can cope with this influx of traffic in the next five years.
“Take for example, the bridge which crosses the Warrigal Creek—located about three hours west of Townsville. It has been reduced to a single lane with a 20 km/hour speed restriction—forcing vehicles, many of them road trains, to sit and wait for a clear passage. This is a highway transporting almost 6 billion dollars of trade every single year.”
Mr Katter has called for the immediate prioritisation of highway upgrades between Townsville and Hughenden, expediting the replacement of the first four bridges but says the whole length of the Flinders Highway is in a comparable state of disrepair.
“Instead of taking all those royalties, taxes, road user charges and even the money from speeding fines and investing it back into the road that help generate it, it’s going down to Brisbane to fund megaprojects like the cross-river rail and the Olympics.”
Industry, leaders and peak bodies in North Queensland are backing Mr Katter’s call for an overhaul of the Flinders Highway.
Cr Jenny Jill, Mayor of Townsville, is also throwing her weight behind the redevelopment of the Flinders Highway, even placing that as a priority above sections of the equally maligned Bruce Highway.
“The Flinders Highway is a disgrace,” said
“We’re looking at developing critical minerals into refineries to Townsville where we’ve got investment inexcess of $10 billion committed, but the road looks like something out of the 1940s because that was when it was laid.
“It is the major national highway linking the east coast to Darwin, and at the moment you’ve still go one way bridges and B triples having to go down to 20 km/h.
“People talk about the Bruce Highway. I drive the Bruce Highway at least twice a year from Townsville to Brisbane and I often travel to Cairns on the Bruce.
“And that road in comparison to the Flinders Highway is paved with gold,” she said.
Frances Schafer, the North Queensland Membership Development officer from the Queensland Trucking Association, says the Flinders Highway is renowned for being the worst road in Queensland.
“Road safety needs to be a top priority. Rough surfaces and narrow roads cause unnecessary driver fatigue.
“Rough surfaces and narrow roads add to driver fatigue for all road users but in a road train on the Flinders Highway, professional drivers are constantly fighting the steering wheel to keep it straight. This causes extra wear and tear on the driver and added fatigue to an already arduous task,” she said.
Claudia Brumme-Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Townsville Enterprise, says Flinders Highway upgrades will be required to meet the expected massive expansion of critical mining activity, Copperstring and renewable energy projects looming on the horizon.
“The Flinders Highway is one of the most important national economic freight routes in the country and it doesn’t make the infrastructure priority list of the State and Federal government. Carrying the goods and minerals to the Port of Townsville and supporting industries that contribute almost $6 billion to our nation’s GDP every year,” she said.
“In the coming years, this highway will be the most important green energy and critical mineral route in the country, carrying the wind turbines, solar panels, transmission tower components and critical minerals that will drive our green industrial future.
“The highway needs to be fit for purpose to deliver the largest private and public infrastructure spend ever in our region. We know that, in its current state, the highway cannot do that.
“Significant investment is needed in upgrading bridges, providing additional overtaking lanes and improving known blackspots on the highway.
“For our region to realise the incredible green energy and critical mineral opportunity in front of us, we need a strong infrastructure spine that will enable this. The Queensland Government’s investment in Copperstring will need to be backed up with an efficient national highway supporting these new industries. Given the economic contribution this highway makes to our nation, it deserves to be looked after,” she said.
Ms Brumme-Smith is calling for a “full audit” of the Flinders Highway to assess its capacity to meet the high-load demands that will be placed on it as renewable projects in the region begin to proliferate.
“We don’t believe the highway, particularly the bridges, can support the weight requirements of the materials needed to build the wind turbines, transformers and transmission towers which will comprise the bulk of the renewable energy projects set to begin in the North West,” Ms Brumme-Smith said.
Helen Cogill, co-owner of trucking company Sizer & Cogill in Townsville, says she is mystified that the Flinders Highway along with the Gregory Development Road – the two key freight routes into from the resource rich interior into Townsville – are also the two worst roads they do business on.
“The condition of the highway really does impact on business. The incidents that we have are only due to road conditions. There are areas where drivers can only drive at 60 km/hour, due to the road conditions.
“We only send competent drivers out on it now.
She said the roads need widening, and the surface needs repair.
“Every time you send a truck on the Flinders or the Gregory Development Road, you cross your fingers,” Ms Cogill said.