Highway from Hell gets a long overdue upgrade

It was once described as the ‘Highway from Hell’ and amongst the most dangerous routes in Australian for heavy vehicles to travel on despite being a major inland route for truckies.

Most of the 255km section of the Kennedy Developmental Road (KDR) from Hughenden to the Lynd – known to truckies as the Hann Highway – was shifting red dirt.

To travel along the Hann you had to negotiate several elbow bends, a lot of dirt and the resultant dust, and a narrow and unstable surface.

There had been numerous truck rollovers and many accidents involving caravans and cars.

But ‘People Power’ has been largely responsible for lobbing government to upgrade the key road link which supports livestock, mining, tourism and freight in north Queensland.

The Hann Highway is also a major route for travel between Hughenden and the Atherton Tablelands and is used by the Army for travel to Darwin.

Work started in July 2020 on the final stretch of unsealed road considered to be the missing link on the alternative inland route between Cairns and Melbourne.

The upgrade is a partnership between the three levels of government; federal, state and the local Flinders and Etheridge Shire Councils.

“The highway has an average annual total of 96 vehicles per day, 23 of which are heavy vehicles (24%). This section of the KDR is 255.34km, of which about 59.07km remained unsealed following the completion of the $50 million Northern Australia Roads Programme (NARP) funded works in 2020,” said a spokesperson from the Main Roads Department.

“The new $50 million Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI) project, jointly funded by the Federal and State Government, will be delivered by the Flinders Shire Council and Etheridge Shire Council over eight packages in eight locations.

“The project will seal an additional 48.18 kilometres of the highway, with a sealed road of eight metres in width catering for heavy loads and freight vehicles as well as improved flood immunity for the length of the corridor. The upgrade will continue the success of the previous progressive sealing project completed in March 2020, with an average of 42 direct jobs to be supported over the life of this project.”

Works are scheduled for completion by December 2023, with only a 10.89km section remaining unsealed.

The spokesperson also told Big Rigs the Lynd to Hughenden does not have any current restrictions for heavy vehicles, with Type 2 road trains allowed to travel along it.

I travelled the Hann Highway for the first time in 2004 when it was a dusty dangerous route with many bends and considered a nightmare to negotiate.

hann highway

In November 2004, I attended a meeting of the Hann Highway Action Group at remote Clothes Peg Station which is about 120km from the Lynd Junction.

This ‘people power meeting’ included road transport representatives, several politicians, graziers and other interested people and resulted in strong lobbying to government for an urgent upgrade.

The audience was told that most of the Hann Highway was  dirt with only a few short stretches of bitumen, most of which was laid during World War II in the early 1940’s, when authorities wanted to use it to evacuate residents in case of a Japanese invasion.

More than 90 people attended that initial meeting including representatives of the Flinders and Etheridge Shire and the Group lobbied Governments to upgrade the Hann.

Long-time group secretary, Alison Murphy, now aged 72, who retired a few years told Big Rigs that the work was a major victory for road transport and agricultural industries.

“In 2004 the Hann Highway was in a shocking state of repair, mainly due to ongoing drought, causing much bulldust which I saw was an enormous traffic hazard, so I called a public meeting,” she said.

“The response was almost overwhelming, with 90 people attending, including representatives from both the Cairns and Cloncurry Main Road Department and the mayors from both Etheridge and Flinders Shire Councils, local police and ambulance etc, and families from all properties along the route.

“We also had the backing of both the local State and Federal MPs.  A committee was formed on the day, and it was agreed that we would work through the Hughenden of Chamber Commerce, as we didn’t have anything (constitution etc) set up to go it alone.

“Fortunately for me, both the Councils were in total agreement, and the Flinders Council of the time really put their hand up and took on all the major work for us.

“They had a feasibility study completed, and this showed overwhelmingly that the road certainly had to be sealed.”

Now nearly 16 years later, Murphy said there is only about 60km left unsealed, and funds have been promised to complete the sealing by 2023.

“In the beginning most politicians did not know where the Hann Highway was, but they certainly did by the end of several delegations. This has to be a tremendous boost to the local communities, transport of local cattle, and the tourist industry, just to name a few.”

Murphy said trucks now have much better times because it’s about 800km shorter to go from towns to Melbourne compared with travel along the coastal Bruce Highway.

“There were several sections of bull dust and the road trains coming through were having to unhook and take one trailer through at a time. As well as being time-consuming and expensive, it was an animal welfare issue because the cattle in the back trailers were almost choking in dust.”

Flinders Shire Mayor Jane McNamara said Hughenden was perfectly positioned as a major transport hub for trucks passing through.

“It’s a fairly long section from The Lynd, 255km approximately without any towns. By the time people get to Hughenden they’ll be looking for a good coffee and a feed and fuel up and maybe some tyres,” Cr McNamara said.

The Hann is about 400km inland from Townsville and the sealing will improve productivity, resilience and safety on this regional road.

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz emphasised the positive impact of the upgrades on the local and national economies.

“The Hann Highway is a key road link supporting livestock, mining, tourism and freight in the North. The works have  improved safety, reliability and efficiency of this important connection,” Buchholz said.

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey, who has recently checked out progress on the road, said beyond sealing gravel roads for the community and truck drivers, the program also provided a shot in the arm for local jobs.

“Investing in Queensland roads means supporting Queensland jobs, with average of 120 supported throughout the life of the project,” Bailey said.

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