Minister's $8 million road trip
THE Daily News ‘Fix Our Roads’ campaign received a massive leg-up after Main Roads Minister Craig Wallace announced $8 million in funding, when he accepted our invitation for a driving tour of the region yesterday.
Mr Wallace announced the funds at a height of 40 metres and rising, with the Daily News quick to grasp the sides of a Main Roads cherry-picker as he said $3 million would go towards urgently-needed monitoring of the Cunningham’s Gap landslide zone.
Adamant that it all represented “new” money and not previously budgeted amounts re-packaged, Mr Wallace also said $5 million had been awarded in maintenance contracts to Roadtek and the Southern Downs Regional Council.
The ministerial visit to the Downs began at the Gap yesterday morning, where geologists and Main Roads engineers continue to assess the stability of the rock-face after recent rain.
The $3 million in funding will include the installation of a 24-hour closed circuit television (CCTV) system at the Gap to record any rockfalls in the coming weeks.
The cameras will be powered by generators and possibly solar power.
Yesterday’s announcement for the Gap comes as two massive and cracked sections of rock weighing hundreds of tonnes have been spray-painted, with engineers coy about the chances of them coming down on to the road.
Smaller landslides in February and March were caused by heavy rainfall, with the highways last closed by rocks in 2007. Huge sections of the cliff were blasted away in 2008 for safety reasons and more such work may be imminent.
Traffic delays at the Gap are expected to continue for several days while the geological inspection continues.
Mr Wallace yesterday slammed “federal governments of both colours” for a lack of funding for work on national highways on the Downs, saying the Bligh Government had “bitten the bullet” to pay for current “emergency work” at the Gap.
“We were last year allocated $50 million for highways in Queensland – excluding the Bruce Highway – and that was supposed to be spent over five years,” the minister said.
“We spent it in just one year – that’s an indication of how much work needs to be done.
“Both sides of politics need to accept their neglect of national highways in Queensland over the past 40 years and I make no apology for saying that.
“We will have a $1 billion state shortfall this financial year alone.”
Mr Wallace said the $5 million for Roadtek and the council would be spent according to council priorities, with early details of locations expected to be released later this week.
The minister said the work would involve “general maintenance”, including pothole repairs, minor asphalt work and signage.
During his three-hour visit Mr Wallace attempted to guide the Daily News through the myriad of road funding programs operated by both Federal and State governments, but was at pains to sheet responsibility for highways home to Canberra.
“I know how much people hate politicians blame-shifting but the reality is these are their roads,” Mr Wallace said.
“With the Gap, we have put in a $30 million proposal to Canberra for safety work to clean up the upper ledges and remove boulders, but we have nothing yet in return.
“Likewise we have estimated around $40 million is needed to widen and improve the New England Highway between Warwick and Stanthorpe, which is less than eight metres wide in places and doesn't have proper road shoulders.
“I just hope that with the independents we now have down there with a regional focus that they will make the need for a road spend here well and truly known.”
Mr Wallace said as Main Roads Minister he was responsible for 33,500 kilometres of roads in Queensland with $792 spent on them for every Queenslander every year out of state coffers.
“In Western Australia it's $232 per person per year and $202 in Victoria,” he said.
Driving through the Eight Mile, Main Roads regional director Tony Platz said they had not received any reports of incidents since they widened and moved the turning lane from Warwick to Toowoomba further back.
The Daily News then pointed out the problem of Alexandra Drive, which has recently been the subject of repeated patch-up works and a road which a number of residents have complained about.
Mr Wallace said he would prefer the road fully resealed rather than patched, but as it was a federal-funded road he was unsure of the funding allocation.
Mr Platz advised the turning lane travelling from Warwick into Yangan Road was too narrow and a particular concern during peak school times and the Minister agreed this would be looked into.
The next stop on our tour was to visit a concerned couple who phoned the Daily News on Monday wanting better signage and visibility turning off the New England Highway into Ford Road.
Cathy and Richard Oehlmann's case became perfectly clear when the Main Roads' V6 Honda Accord drove straight past their unsigned turn-off and had to perform a U-turn – when safe – to stop and hear their plight.
Mrs Oehlmann informed Mr Wallace their road was popular with car enthusiasts and every time a new sign is put up on the highway it was only a matter of time before a Ford fan pinched it for their pool room.
“The highway isn't wide enough as well, just the other day I was waiting to turn into the road and a road train was coming up behind me at an alarming speed with no room to go around me,” she said.
“Another time we had a fellow fall asleep and end up in our paddock.
“We've already had two fatalities in our family and we don't want to be responsible for anyone losing their life turning in to visit us.”
Mr Wallace promised there and then to fix the dangerous highway situation.
“We'll give the trees a really good trim, as well as getting some new signage up straight away – hopefully it will all be done by Christmas,” he said.
Other worries put to Minister Wallace during yesterday's tour included:
The helipad at Cunningham's Gap
“That is a Queensland Health facility and one problem they have up there is there is no mains electricity supply,” Mr Wallace said.
“Solar is an option but you'd need a big battery supply. I'll take that bid to Queensland Health as it is a vital facility should there be a serious accident in that part of the region.”
Closed shoulders at Warrill View
Mr Wallace said they have put in a request for Federal funding as it's part of the national road network, believed to be around $5 million to fix the embankment.
Between The Gap and Aratula
“It's very rough there, we stopped and had a look on our way here and we'd like to see the Federal Government put in some money rather than patching and resealing to replace the whole lot,” Mr Wallace said.
Heavy vehicle bypass
The Minister and Mr Platz confirmed they will begin a study into a bypass for Warwick using traffic data collected last year to determine if a bypass is needed.
“Businesses would be quite nervous about a bypass as they see it as a reduction in business but where we've seen bypasses in the past they've worked OK and they haven't seen a decline,” Mr Wallace said.
“A bypass has been on the agenda (for Warwick) for many years, since about the 1990s at least and we'll need to determine a range of things including if there is a bypass, should it just be for heavy vehicles?”
“The study should be finished by June next year and include community consultation,” Mr Platz added.
Main Roads is expected to release more details about the bypass study this week.