28 August 2023

OPINION: Fix up the roads and save on freight subsidy

| Matt Nicholls
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Trucks provide about 70 per cent of Cape York’s freight during the dry season, yet the big trucking companies won’t touch the region due to our poor roads.

TALK to most businesses in Cape York Peninsula and they’ll tell you their number one frustration – the cost of freight.

It’s the most prohibitive part of trading on the Cape.

Not only is road freight limited to just seven months of the year (that’s without a big wet season), our roads are so bad that the big truck companies won’t touch us.

Those who do – and we thank them – have to factor in the cost of the wear and tear on their trucks, which cop a battering from May until November on Cape York’s notorious corrugations.

It all adds up. And who pays the price? We do.

Yet, relief is supposedly on the way if you believe the Queensland government.

In March this year, the Premier announced a $64 million freight subsidy for remote communities, including the Cape.

But like most promises from this state government, the devil is in the detail.

Or should that be lack of detail?

It’s been almost six months since that backslapping announcement was made while Ministers were on a rare trip to the Torres Strait, yet there has been no action taken.

Meanwhile, families are facing a huge cost at the supermarket and our small businesses are struggling to stay afloat.

But there is one way to help keep the costs of freight down in the Cape – improve the quality of our roads.

The Peninsula Developmental Road is a disgrace at present, with corrugations so deep that goannas are using them for shade.

The Archer River bridge project has become the running joke of Cape York.

Truck drivers are forced to crawl at walking pace to prevent damaging both the freight they are carting and the vehicle they are steering.

The maintenance budget on the PDR has not kept up. Not only are there more vehicles on the road, but the cost of the work has gone up, meaning you get less bang for your buck.

To his credit, Minister for Main Roads Mark Bailey said he would look into it when he spoke with Cape York Weekly, but stopped short of guaranteeing additional funding for the region’s most important piece of infrastructure.

Unfortunately for Mr Bailey and his state government, the PDR has lost all momentum in terms of sealing works.

Much of that can be put down to a lack of local knowledge in the Cairns TMR department, and an unhealthy obsession with bridges.

The Archer River bridge, which started last year and isn’t likely to be finished until the end of next year, has become the laughing stock of the region.

Not only has the project gone well over budget, but it will serve no useful purpose for several years after completion.

Once the wet season arrives, those travelling between Weipa and Laura will encounter several river and creek crossings that will be impassable.

Just getting to the Archer from Weipa will be tough if the bridge at Myall Creek is underwater.

TMR is scaring off tourists with ‘caution’ warnings for the Cape.

What we need is more bitumen and more maintenance on the dirt sections that are remaining.

Amazingly, there will be no new sealing projects on the PDR this year. Can you believe that?

If we’re lucky, there might be some tarmac at the Archer River approaches if RoadTek can get the job done before the wet, but that was supposed to be completed last year by Decmil.

Instead, they collected their cash and left a big mess for the taxpayer to clean up.

Sections of the PDR were slated for sealing this year between Coen and Musgrave Roadhouse, but TMR didn’t award the contracts in time for the successful tenderer to get the job done before the wet.

Meanwhile, Cape residents are paying the highest road freight costs in Queensland.

READ ALSO Bloody tough: Cape York truck drivers slam state of PDR

Once the Archer River bridge is complete, there should be a simple state government policy – bitumen before bridges.

Having a good quality piece of road to drive on for seven or eight months of the year will beat what we currently have.

In the meantime, we wait to see what this freight subsidy looks like. It’s supposed to be worth $64 million over five years.

But when you break that figure down per resident living in Cape York and the Torres Strait, it works out to be about $500 per person in savings per year.

That’s not a bad start, but will it work? Time will tell.

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