Kuranda Range Road

An integrated and efficient road connectivity network is critical for economic stability and growth.

The Kuranda Range Road (Kennedy Highway, Cairns-Mareeba section) links Smithfield with Kuranda and is the main coastal gateway to the Tablelands, Cape York Peninsula, and the Gulf Savannah. It is a critical link for commuter, commercial, and visitor traffic in FNQ and a vital strategic corridor linking the Atherton Tablelands, North Tropical Coast, and Cape York to the Cairns Airport and seaports.

The Kuranda Range Road underpins the commercial viability of primary industry producers and exporters in the region in providing access to markets through the Cairns air and seaports, and road links to southern markets.

In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in traffic demand due to growth in tourism, freight movement, and residential development on the Tablelands, particularly following the recent opening of Cairns’ Regional Trade Distribution Centre (RTDC) at the Cairns Airport.

Benefits to the region

The proposed initiative brings forth a multitude of benefits vital for the region’s development. It promises heightened economic and social outcomes, with the potential to create fresh residential areas, catering to the growing needs of an expanding linear city.

Additionally, the project’s implementation stands to unlock crucial supply chains, significantly improving the resilience and efficiency of the region’s freight network. Moreover, the initiative is poised to advance safety and security standards, ensuring a secure and protected environment.

Further, it aims to augment national and regional connectivity, fostering increased accessibility and seamless integration within the area.

Recommendation

The Queensland Government commits $20m of the Australian Government’s $210m investment to undertake a preliminary evaluation and detailed business case for an alternative route.

The Queensland Government works with the Australian Government to amend the National Land Transport Act 2014 to extend the national highway designation from its current terminus at the intersection of Captain Cook and Kennedy Highways to the intersection of the Kennedy Highway and the Mulligan Highway.

Project overview

The Kuranda Range Road (Kennedy Highway, Cairns-Mareeba section) links Smithfield with Kuranda and is the main coastal gateway to the Tablelands, Cape York Peninsula, and the Gulf Savannah. It is a critical link for commuter, commercial, and visitor traffic in FNQ and a vital strategic corridor linking the Atherton Tablelands, North Tropical Coast, and Cape York to the Cairns Airport and seaports. The Kuranda Range Road underpins the commercial viability of primary industry producers and exporters in the region in providing access to markets through the Cairns air and seaports, and road links to southern markets¹. In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in traffic demand due to growth in tourism, freight movement, and residential development on the Tablelands, particularly following the recent opening of Cairns’ Regional Trade Distribution Centre (RTDC) at the Cairns Airport. A solution to the Kuranda Range Road would not only address FNQROC’s reports that the road is operating beyond capacity with safety and traffic efficiency now at critical levels but would ensure the region capitalises on the full economic potential of the RTDC.

There are other impediments to a safe and efficient transport corridor from Cairns to the Tablelands. The Barron River Bridge on the Kennedy Highway at Kuranda was reduced to one lane and load limited to 50.5 tonnes for one year due to concerns over the safety and stability of the bridge. The bridge remains limited to 50.5 tonne with the Queensland Government currently investigating either rehabilitating or replacing the bridge².

In 2020, the NLTN Determination confirmed the National Highway A1 would be extended from Cairns to Smithfield. The objectives of an integrated land transport network include improving national and regional connectivity for communities and industry; improving national, regional, and international logistics; and trade and consistency with viable, long-term economic and social outcomes³.

Continuing the NLTN from Smithfield to Mareeba, and ultimately to Weipa, would meet these objectives and ensure the continued economic and social development of the Atherton Tablelands region and beyond. It would be the next logical step in the network, with Mareeba being the gateway to the region’s agriculture production areas of Atherton Tablelands, Cape York Peninsula, and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
In the meantime, the Australian Government has committed $210m towards safety and capacity upgrades on the Kuranda Range Road. However, the Queensland Government is urged to work with the Australian Government to ensure that $20m of this $210m is used to conduct a preliminary evaluation and detailed business case into preferred alternative routes to the Kuranda Range Road.

There have been 21 years of studies on the Kuranda Range Road with most recommendations not implemented. As a result, safety, capacity, and efficiency issues are now at a critical point. Failure to address this issue has also resulted in constraints on economic development in the region, as evidenced by the abandoned $600m KUR-World tourism development project. Continued growth in tourism, agriculture, mining, and population on the Tablelands and beyond mean it is imperative that a solution is developed for access from Cairns to the Tablelands prior to a major crisis.

¹ FNQROC, Kuranda Range Road, August 2019
² Department of Transport and Main Roads, Kennedy Highway (Cairns – Mareeba), Barron River bridge upgrade, planning, last updated October 30, 2023
³ National Land Transport Act 2014 (Cth)

Last updated: 17 November 2023

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