Gary Mahon describes the LNP’s election pledge to four-lane the Bruce Highway from Curra to Cairns as an “admirable ambition”.
But if state politicians really want to win the hearts and minds of the road transport sector at the polls on October 31, they need to be looking further inland, believes the CEO of the Queensland Trucking Association.
One of the keys to kick-starting stagnant productivity in the state – and beyond – said Mahon is to invest in decent roads and bridges, and he is adamant the ones that can reap the most benefit are not on the crowded Bruce, but in an existing regional roading network that is being woefully under-utilised.
In a detailed election blueprint submitted to both major parties, the QTA is recommending the adoption of a Queensland Inland Highway (QIH), one of six key actions to guide the next Queensland Government towards immediately implementing investment to improve the resilience of the Queensland economy and grow employment.
The QIH is an existing road network comprising of highways and developmental roads that connect north-south to provide a viable alternative to the Bruce Highway.
They include the Castlereagh, Carnarvon, Dawson, Flinders and Gregory Highways, and the Gregory Development Road.
Once all state and local authorities were on board, Mahon said operators could run high productivity vehicle (HPV), multi-combination trucks from Toowoomba to Townsville without any red tape blocking their way.
In its detailed election blueprint, which both major parties have seen, the QTA also said the QIH would be more resilient to natural disasters and would lead to productivity gains of around 23% for PBS Level 3 and 49% for PBS Level 4 trucks.
“It takes pressure off the Bruce, gives you flood immunity and a relatively lower spend because we’re not asking for duplication, or a dual lane all the way to Townsville,” said Mahon.
“We’re asking for a reasonable level of access.”
Mahon believes the investment in the existing road networks would be minimal compared to the $33 billion the LNP is pledging to spend on the Bruce if elected.
He said Emerald would require a bypass and the steep Wallaroo Hill would need work “of some substance” to accommodate bigger PBS combinations.
Other than that, it’s mostly a case of intermittent widening, centre-lining and verges in other areas.
“More than ever we need to grow our way out of the Covid-impact, and road freight has shown how fundamental it is to the benefit of the community” said Mahon.
“What has been lacking for some considerable time is real growth in productivity, and there is no better way to open that up than to invest in roads and bridges.”
“We know this would take some time but if you set the ambition, you have the vision, business can invest with more confidence.”
Mahon said the reaction to the QTA’s proposal from industry he’s canvassed has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The general reaction is somewhere along the lines of, ‘wow, what a hell of an asset that would be to be able to run AB-triples all the way from Toowoomba to Townsville.”
He also said you only have to look at the success Tasmania is having with opening up its network to high performance vehicles and doing away with needless permit red tape to know the concept is scalable to a bigger state such as Queensland.
“Yes, we have PBS and we are getting them applied I some places but it’s still a relatively small number in the scheme of things because we can’t get access.
“We’ve got the capability, got the IP, know how to do it, where to do it but can’t get the access, and the limitation put on us is that the roads and bridges aren’t up to scratch.”
QTA’s top 11 bridge priorities
1. Rifle Creek Bridge (location north of Mareeba)
2. Spear Creek Bridge (location north of Mareeba)
3. McLeod River Bridge (location north of Mareeba)
4. Bungil Creek Bridge Roma
5. Gilbert River Bridge (location between Georgetown and Croydon – Gulf Development Road)
6. Norman River Bridge (location: between Croydon and Normanton)
7. Georgetown Bridge – Etheridge River Bridge
8. Splinter Creek crossings (location: on the Monto-Mt Perry Road and Monto-Kalpowar Road)
9. Bremer River
10.Bee Creek Peak Downs Hwy
11.Grosvenor Creek & Cherwell Creek