Bob Katter, MHR and new highway designer, Ron Reddicliffe, discuss the poor structural problems of the 60 year-old Barron River Bridge at Kuranda
Mareeba Shire Council made a serious error of judgement when choosing the options to repair or replace the ailing Barron River Bridge on the Kennedy Highway, the only viable, existing corridor between Mareeba and Cairns.
The Main Roads on behalf of Labor Transport Minister Mark Bailey recently offered a pre-election sweetener to Atherton Tablelands motorists asking them to choose between a patched-up Barron River bridge or a new bridge near the existing structure.
Unfortunately, Mareeba council, according to local media reports, fell for Labor’s rhetoric and opted for a new bridge, at an estimated cost of $1.8 billion which bankrupt Queensland Labor has no intention of building.
Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin after many years in the public service should have seen through the Labor election scam and insisted on a new corridor bypassing the treacherous Kuranda Range Road altogether.
Labor hopes the bridge option tossed around among the public should take the heat off TMR and Mr Bailey as hundreds of motorists complain about almost daily closures of the notorious range road due to road accidents or irrelevant, newly-installed under-road cabling and provision of even more cameras to have alternating road speeds when the road is busy.
Accidents still occur and hapless motorists still drive over the edge as soon as it rains holding up traffic for up to five or six hours, never mind the safety of drivers.
Full diesel tanks on trucks, start spilling out of the over flow when heading up the steep hill and every hair-pin corner splashes a bit more diesel onto the road surface topping up the oily sheen on the bitumen.
Then a few showers replicate Townsville’s Warrina Ice Skating rink except the skaters on the Kuranda road are cars, buses or trucks.
Suffering drivers held up on the range have the option of backtracking, if they can get out of the traffic snarl, then drive to Mossman to take on the Rex Range eventually getting to Mareeba, a costly detour of one and a half hours.
Or they can head south through Cairns for the equally deadly Gillies Range Road and possibly suffer a similar fate they faced on the Kuranda road and nearly two hours extra driving with an over-load of government fuel taxes blowing the week’s budget.
Many motorists trying to meet deadlines for air travel or doctor’s appointments in Cairns leave the day before choosing to book a motel or stay with friends rather than play Russian roulette with the range.
TMR and Minister Bailey have had the option of a viable alternative route for at least three years, that requires no river crossings, allows B-Double access and would cut 20 minutes travel time from the existing Kennedy highway driving time to Cairns.
Cost savings of the proposed Reddicliffe highway according to a report compiled by Cairns economist Bill Cummings would save the Tablelands $1.2 billion a year, ironically much more than enough to build the new highway at an estimated cost of $700m.
Instead wall-to-wall, bankrupt Labor has ensured that no new road will be constructed if they have anything to do with it.
The lion’s share of government income for the next 8 years has been committed to an Olympic Games extravaganza in Brisbane, of which the Premier has appointed herself as chief honcho until the games are over. A paid position of course.
Yet another Ministerial escape route has been created with TMR now claiming in correspondence to a Mareeba community group they will spend ‘$262.5m for safety and resilience upgrades on the narrow, winding and steep Kuranda Range Road’.
The letter said TMR is ‘working with the Australian Government to develop an appropriate scope of works and delivery timeframe for the upgrades’.
Few believe TMR has any intention of safety upgrades after spending a reported $30m on a convoluted system of smoke and mirrors and under-road, camera cabling along the narrow track trying to slow down the 10,000 vehicles using the road every day.
From where the stated $235.5m will come from is anyone’s guess and it certainly won’t be spent before the next state election due in October 2024.
The TMR said in the letter they had a report done by a Cairns consultant 18 months ago which claimed the road could handle existing and projected traffic flows until 2050.
Naturally the report was received by local governments and motorists with a great deal of mirth then derision.
The letter omitted to say the Minister could have pre-empted the report’s findings as a condition when he contracted the consultant to write it.
Engineers have said the traffic study report was so erroneous the only way in which the consultant could have reached the conclusion that the Kuranda Range Road was under capacity was to have been paid to state it.
TMR wrote in their letter quoting the study: ‘While there are clear challenges with the routes between the coast and northern tablelands, none of the existing corridors are operating at capacity.’
As a Cairns truck driver put it, “The government should learn you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. From CN Tablelands correspondent.