It’s time to stop building roads just for cars and put more focus on key freight routes around Australia.
That was one of the key messages from a Queensland delegation that met with Infrastructure Minister Catherine King in Canberra on November 29 to lobby the case for more spending.
King has already hit the pause button on the proposed $1 billion Inland Freight Route (IFR) and ordered a business case study before deciding if she’ll make good on the previous federal government’s promise to co-fund the project on an 80:20 split with Queensland.
To honour its end of the IFR deal, on the day the delegation was due to meet with King, the Queensland Government announced it was committing $107 million to an early works package on what is being billed as the Second Bruce from Mungindi to Charters Towers.
That would include two bridge upgrades between Injune and Rolleston on the Carnarvon Highway; Major culvert upgrades between Roma and Injune on the Carnarvon Highway; and two road strengthening and widening projects (in sections) between Clermont and Charters Towers on the Gregory Developmental Road in the vicinity of Belyando.
This follows $109 million in jointly funded upgrades recently delivered on the IFR and key feeder roads, as part of the Roads of Strategic Importance program and road economic stimulus packages.
Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) CEO Gary Mahon was part of a select group, which included regional mayors, invited to join Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Mills in Canberra to lobby for a “fairer hearing” for road infrastructure in the state.
The IFR is one of five key corridors that sit on top of QTA’s priority list: the others are, the Flinders, Peak Downs and Gore Highways and the progressive improvement of the Bruce Highway.
“I could pick out dozens, but we’re picking out three that are in particularly bad shape [Flinders, Peak Downs and Gore] and have a very high economic draw,” Mahon said.
“They’re all corridors that bring big multis into the coast and/or Cairns. In some cases, they’re limited because of the condition of the road so we can take them part of the way, but not all of the way.
“What we’re saying is that they should be sufficiently improved so that they are key corridors for multis.”
Mahon said he agrees with the assessment by state transport minister Mark Bailey that the recent change to the federal road funding model is “shorting” the state by somewhere in between $600 million and a $1 billion per year.
Given the federal government receives about 80 per cent of all taxes, and that Queensland punches well above its weight in terms of “significant” economic inputs to GDP, the new funding formula doesn’t add up, he added.
“We need a reasonable boost for regional freight routes,” Mahon said.
“I’ve been quoted before, and I’ll be quoted again that fundamentally we build roads for cars in this country and we let trucks use them.
“It is time for us to genuinely focus on key freight routes. That means some bridge replacement and design changes to the way these freight routes accommodate trucks so that they attract the big multis.
“Australia is unique in the use of heavy multis. We’re a large country by geography, relatively low population dispersed widely. So, the efficiency of every truck trip is paramount.”
Mahon expects the state will step up and play its part, but appreciates that it is limited by its smaller slice of the total tax take.
“What we’re also mindful of is that his [the funding changes], might also put pressure on states universally to look at other ways to source revenue to build roads.
“Are they going to take a relook at the road user charge? Are they going to look at the wider use of toll roads? Are we going to suffer over-and-above CPI increases on vehicle rego?
“One way or the other they’re going to try and raise the money to fill this gap.”