by staff writers
Far North Queensland motorists should not expect relief anytime soon from the single lane and permanent traffic lights installed on the Barron River Bridge at Kuranda.
Cairns News can reveal The Main Roads Department has secured traffic controlling companies on a contract for five years while engineers attempt to repair significant structural damage to the 60 year-old concrete and steel bridge.
We can further report that a consultant has been appointed to investigate the proposed new Reddicliffe Track which leaves the Kennedy Highway east of Davies Creek direct to Redlynch Valley, a distance of 18 kilometres.
The new road will not cross any major rivers or creeks and is a simple ‘cut and fill’ construction. Proponents of the new road including the Member for Kennedy Bob Katter have asked the state government to excise a 100 metre-wide easement through the State Forest direct to Crystal Cascades Road where the new road emerges.
The easement has been designed to cater for a new railway line to pick up the existing line at the Freshwater Valley loop. Stage two of the new road would see construction of a railway line directly to Biboohra from where the new road intersects the Kennedy Highway. This new line would pick up the existing line at Biboohra then to Mareeba. It would exclude the Kuranda Range rail line and tunnels.
The estimated cost of the new road at under $200 million, would be an extension of Highway One, and should be borne largely by the federal and partially by the state governments, according to Mr Katter.
The new rail link would allow Cairns garbage to be railed direct to the waste facility at Arriga, taking smelly trucks off the highway and off the main street of Mareeba.
Pushing the TMR to start the road is Mareeba miner and earthmover Ron Reddicliffe. He said the proposed road alignment has been known by the state government going back to when Martin Tenni was the local member.
“Martin asked me 30 years ago if I would find a new route to Cairns which I did then he asked me to build it,” Mr Reddicliffe said.
“I told him I would start it as soon as he coughed up some money, but the money never came.”
As we reported on January 19 the bridge structure will be undergoing expensive, lengthy repairs and motorists would have to endure often long delays to cross the river.
It should be stressed the poor condition of the bridge is no fault of TMR or the current government due the age of it.
The state government has found itself between a rock and a hard place and has no option but to build a new road to Cairns, deviating from the tortuous, dangerous Kuranda Range Road which sees hundreds of motor vehicle accidents each year as well as a climbing death toll for cassowaries and other wildlife from vehicle impacts.
What can be blamed on successive governments is the lack of foresight in providing another arterial road to Cairns Airport and the Cairns Port from the Tablelands and a safer route for local drivers and the many thousands of tourists who travel to the Tablelands and Peninsula every year.
A long-awaited report on the condition of the Barron River bridge at Kuranda won’t be released to the public because it is “too technical” according to Transport and Main Roads Department (TMR).
Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter has attacked this bureaucratic double-speak saying motorists had a right to know if the bridge is safe to use and for how the single lane access and weight restrictions will remain.
“Either it is safe, or it is not safe, and it certainly looks like it is not when we get a response like this,” Mr Katter said.
“It’s time for the State Government to build the alternative road to Cairns – the Bridle Track highway. We have given TMR a topographical map of the proposed road and I have discussed this proposal with them and the Federal Government’s Assistant Transport Minister, Scott Buchholz. There is now no alternative.”
Mr Katter will be writing to the Qld Transport Minister, Mark Bailey regarding the Bridge.
“I will demand a copy of the report,” Mr Katter said.
“We are being treated as mugs in North Queensland. The State Government would not be keeping Brisbane residents in the dark like this, and they would be spending money to fix the situation. They are now estimated to spend $7B on Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, meanwhile we are down to one lane at the Kennedy Highway at Kuranda with no action from the State Government in sight.”
By staff writers
A retired engineer who worked on the construction of the Barron River bridge in 1962 said the concrete
structure had outlived its useful life which has been known by the State Government for more than four years.
Due to potential catastrophic failure, the downgraded weight limit now at 50.5 tonnes would soon have to be lowered again because the bridge is in the final days of its life. It has been estimated the cost of a new bridge could be up $500M.
The engineer, who wished to remain anonymous said when the bridge was built 58 years ago there was no comprehension it would be carrying the large volume of heavy loads at the speed of modern trucks today.
“The life of the bridge was supposed to be 100 years but it takes one third of its life for the concrete to cure, another third for maximum carrying capacity and in the final third it starts to deteriorate,” he said.
X-rays taken in 2016 indicated each pier had a multitude of fine cracks which could be repaired by external application or drilling holes in the structure and pressure-filling them with a low viscosity, two-pack epoxy bond.
To start this treatment first each pier has to be X-rayed which takes at least six weeks then six months to inject the epoxy into each one.
Drilling could weaken the pier structure therefore it had to be done one by one or the integrity of the entire bridge could be affected.
But the downside to this remedy is that the concrete in the pier becomes rock hard and loses flexibility which is required for heavy, moving vehicles.
It is vibrations that cause cracks so the weight and speed limits would have to be lowered significantly to reduce this movement, he explained.
“Vibrations from speeding vehicles over previous years have created the fractures in the concrete which were discovered in 2016 and the next report will probably show it is in worse condition,” he said.
In 2019 the Main Roads Department awarded multi-million dollar tenders for the repair of four concrete bridges on the Mulligan Highway between Mount Carbine and Lakeland because of similar deterioration.
These repairs took nearly 12 months to be carried out. The Barron River bridge could take two and one half years to fix.
Meanwhile a much-publicised alternative road, the Bridle Track, to Cairns from the Tablelands which bypasses the dangerous Kuranda Range Road and the Barron Bridge is being ignored by local Labor Members of Parliament, Craig Crawford and Cynthia Lui who have known about the poor state of the bridge for some time, certainly before the October state election when it was not ever mentioned.
All northern Labor politicians have studiously ignored the problem. Crawford’s thought bubble solution to the accident-prone Kuranda Range Road was to put all travelers into driverless cars and trucks.
After all Crawford and Lui represent the Labor Party, not the people.