Savannah Way (Gulf Section)

BRIEFING NOTE SUMMARY
  • The Savannah Way stretches for 3,700 km and is considered to be one of the top 10 Great Australian Drives, linking Cairns in Tropical North Queensland to Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley.
  • Drive tourism delivers $69.8 million into the Gulf region annually, with 38% of visitors entering the Savannah Way via Cairns.
  • Segments of the Queensland section of the Savannah Way are unsealed and flood prone, isolating communities during the wet season and limiting the economic value of this northern road link.
  • Sealing the Queensland section of the Savannah Way is estimated to require a total investment in excess of $398m, split 80:20 between the State and Federal Governments.
THE ISSUE

The Savannah Way traverses Northern Australia, linking Cairns in Tropical North Queensland to Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley. The route is approximately 3700 km long, crossing 15 National Parks and five World Heritage areas as it traverses across the Top End.

Considered to be in the top 10 road trips of Australia, the self-drive tourism market delivers $69.8 million annually into the Gulf region, with 38% of visitors starting the journey in Cairns.

The Gulf section of the Savannah Way takes in 888km from Forty Mile Scrub west of Mt Garnet to the Northern Territory border, with significant sections of the road already sealed. However there are critical missing links that require pavement upgrades, bitumen seal, minor realignment of substandard curves, concrete causeways and four major river crossings.

As sections of the Savannah Way remain unsealed and flood prone, communities become isolated during the annual wet season which limits the economic value of this northern road link. Upgrading the Gulf section of the Savannah Way will require replacing existing substandard infrastructure.

Upgrading the Savannah Way aligns well with the Federal Government’s Northern Australia agenda, given the road is a key which links Cairns in tropical north QLD to Broome in north west WA.

BACKGROUND

In recognising the need to seal the Gulf section of the Savannah Way, in 2019 the Federal and State Governments committed $62.5 million to road upgrades through the Roads of Strategic Importance – next priorities initiative. This will be spent across various shire councils, with a prioritised list being formulated in 2021.

The Mt Garnet to Carpentaria Shire border section is 510.5km and requires funding of $135 million to upgrade the road and floodways for reliability, current construction and safety standards for heavy vehicles, tourists and commuters who use this corridor. Burke Shire to the Northern Territory border is approximately 302km long with less than 50% of the road sealed. This section requires ~$64 million to upgrade the road.

NEXT STEPS

Upgrading the remaining Gulf sections of the Savannah Way is estimated to require investment of at least $398 million (including the $62.5m already committed). Completing the project over a 10-year period with funds made available to local councils each year will allow the retention of a local workforce. The estimated investment breakdown for each local shire is as follows:

  • Burke Shire to Northern Territory Border – ~$64 million
  • Carpentaria Shire – ~$185 million
  • Croydon Shire – ~$78 million
  • Etheridge Shire – ~$71 million

The project will extend across North West Queensland, travelling along the Gulf of Carpentaria from Forty Mile Scrub to the Northern Territory border, passing through remote towns including Croydon, Burketown and Doomadgee in Queensland and connecting to Wollogorang in the Northern Territory.

OUR RECOMMENDATION
  • That the State and Federal Governments support the sealing and improved flood resilience of the Gulf section of the Savannah Way by providing 80:20 project funding in accordance with the Commonwealth/State roads funding model.
  • That allocation of funds be distributed to the controlling Local Government Authorities in equal portions over a 10-year period from 2021-2022.

Savannah Way Map - Northern Australia

PROPONENTS: Advance Cairns, Burke Shire Council, Carpentaria Shire Council, Doomadgee Aboriginal Shire Council
PRIORITY: Infrastructure
COUNCILS: Burke, Carpentaria, Doomadgee
STATE ELECTORATE: Traeger
FEDERAL ELECTORATE: Kennedy