Cairns Ring Road

  • The Federal Government has confirmed National Highway A1 will be extended from Cairns to Smithfield, providing much better links between the CBD and the Cairns sea port, Cairns airport, the northern beaches and southern access route.
  • As Stage 1 of the Cairns Ring Road, Federal investment of $287.2 million has been committed, which has been matched by State investment of $71.8 million.
  • The Cairns Western Arterial Road intersects with the northern point of National Highway A1 and urgently requires State funding of $365.5 million for essential upgrades as Stage 2 of the Cairns Ring Road. The State Government has promised $60m in the lead up to the last election but only $35m was allocated in the November State Budget.
  • When the Captain Cook Highway is flooded, the Western Arterial Road is the only flood free access route between Cairns, the northern beaches and Kennedy Highway.

Access to the Cairns airport and seaport from the north, south and west is adversely impacted by a highly inefficient road network, with all directions constrained by the need to travel directly through the Cairns CBD.

There is significant traffic congestion on the Captain Cook Highway and along the Cairns Western Arterial Road, both of which lead from the northern beaches into the city, and this makes the transport of freight to, from and between the key port locations difficult.

While there is significant potential to expand export activities for the Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) region, particularly to Asian markets, connectivity between ports is a critical enabling factor in the future development of Cairns as an export and service hub.

The need to upgrade Captain Cook Highway to enhance connectivity was recognised by the Federal Government in its July 2020 release of the 2019 National Land Transport Network (NLTN) Determination Review. The review confirmed the National Highway A1 would be extended to Smithfield, with works on the first phase between James Street and Airport Avenue to begin in mid-2021. The extension of the A1 will free-up State Government funding that would previously have been required for Captain Cook Highway upgrades.

These funds should be redirected to the State-owned Western Arterial section of the Cairns Ring Road which carries 36,550 vehicles per day. Upgrading this section is essential to connecting Cairns’ freight routes with the region’s premier agriculture producing areas (Atherton Tablelands, Cape York Peninsula and Mossman), while also meeting demand for daily commuter traffic.


The Bruce Highway is part of the National Highway A1, providing the vital link between Cairns, other Queensland coastal cities and Brisbane. The National Highway A1 has been extended by the Federal Government to the intersection of Captain Cook and Kennedy Highways and Mount Milman Drive, Smithfield, north of Cairns, which will lead to a major upgrade of the Captain Cook Highway.

However, the effectiveness and safety of the road transport network in and around Cairns will continue to be adversely impacted until the State-owned Cairns Western Arterial Road is also fully duplicated from Redlynch to Smithfield as well as major intersections upgraded. The Cairns Arterial road network has been underfunded for many years in terms of capacity upgrades, with residential and industrial land development outpacing road project investments. In January 2019, Cairns Regional Council identified a number of underfunded State owned roads and listed them as priority infrastructure projects for the region. The Cairns Western Arterial Road is a significant component of this list as the road is heavily congested on a daily basis and when the Captain Cook Highway is flooded during wet season or natural disaster, is the only flood free access route between Cairns, the northern beaches and Kennedy Highway. In the 2020 State election, $60 million was promised to duplicate the remaining single lane section of the Cairns Western Arterial Road out to the Barron River at Kamerunga. Currently, only $35 million has been allocated in forward estimates. It is vital that the full funding be in the 2021-2022 budget papers, to allow these important upgrade works to commence.



The required infrastructure upgrades can be achieved through:

  • Creating Stage 1 of the Cairns Ring Road by upgrading the Captain Cook Highway which links the northernmost part of the National Highway A1 to the Cairns port and airport;
  • Stage 2 includes duplicating the Cairns Western Arterial Road to provide a minimum of two lanes in each direction, beginning with the section between Smithfield and the Barron River at Kamerunga;
  • Duplicating the Barron River Bridge at Kamerunga and the Redlynch overpass;
  • Upgrading three major intersections through a combination of overpass, traffic signal and slip lane projects;
  • Constructing the McCoombe Street connection road between Ray Jones Drive and Mulgrave Road.

It is estimated that a $365.5 million investment is required to cover the cost of the Western Arterial Road upgrades. This will complement the combined State and Federal investment of $359 million committed for Captain Cook Highway upgrades.

  • That the Federal Government commitment of $287.2 million for Captain Cook Highway upgrades be invested over three years to 2024.
  • That the Queensland Government commits $437.3 million for the two stages of the Cairns Ring Road, to be invested over four years from 2022-2025.
  • That the Queensland Government completes its detailed planning of the Cairns Western Arterial Road upgrade by October 2021 and Captain Cook Highway upgrade by October 2022.

PROPONENTS: Advance Cairns, Cairns Chamber of Commerce, RDA FNQ&TS
PRIORITY: Infrastructure
STATE ELECTORATES: Cairns, Barron River, Mulgrave