Inland Roads

BRIEFING NOTE SUMMARY
  • The Savannah Way stretches for 3700km 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, and delivering $69.8 million into the Gulf region annually in drive tourism.
  • 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.
  • The Kennedy Developmental Road is a key strategic link from northern Australia to the southern freight hubs of Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.
  • To realise the benefits of a fully sealed inland road between Cairns and Melbourne, it is critical that funding be provided to complete the remaining 11km of the Kennedy Developmental Road and complete a heavy vehicle safety upgrade at White Cliffs.
THE ISSUE

The inland roads of Tropical North Queensland (TNQ) are vital to enhance the productivity of northern Australia, while contributing to the national economy through providing improved connectivity to southern markets1. With the growth in population, employment, tourism, and freight volumes, the safety and capacity issues on these roads will only be exacerbated, resulting in nationally significant productivity losses. It is for these reasons the Gulf Developmental Road (Savannah Way Gulf Section) and the Kennedy Developmental Road have been highlighted as priority roads in the Infrastructure Australia Priority list for 20212.

The Savannah Way traverses northern Australia, linking Cairns in TNQ to Broome in Western Australia’s Kimberley. The route is approximately 3700km 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 region3, with 38% of visitors starting the journey in Cairns.

The Gulf section of the Savannah Way (Gulf Developmental Road) 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 many substantial sections that require pavement upgrades, bitumen seal, minor realignment of substandard curves, concrete causeways, and four major river crossing upgrades.

The Kennedy Developmental Road is a key strategic link from northern Australia to the southern freight hubs of Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. However, for many years sections of the road remained unsealed, causing safety issues for the locals, tourists, and transport companies that regularly use the road.

To address these concerns, in 2017 under the $600 million Northern Australia Roads Program, the Federal and State Governments provided $53.3 million to complete 42km sealing of the Kennedy Developmental Road between the Lynd and Hughenden, and a 3.4km section of road widening and sealing between Mt Garnet and the Lynd. A further $50 million was secured in 2018 to complete the remaining 48km of the Kennedy Developmental Road. However, when funding is fully expended by June 2022, there will be a remaining 11km of the highway yet to be sealed. Additional funding support to seal the remaining 11km on the Kennedy Developmental Road as well as a safety upgrade at White Cliffs would accelerate this project to timely completion and finalise an important link for tourism, horticulture, freight, and cattle movement through Queensland’s north and north-west region, reducing the cost of transporting cattle which, at times, can cost a third of their final value to transport to market.

The completed highway will be of tremendous economic benefit to the entire Cairns region, providing a direct transport corridor for banana and other fruit growers and primary producers to freight goods from Tropical North Queensland to southern markets faster and more reliably than the existing Bruce Highway route.

 

BACKGROUND

Savannah Way (Gulf Section): 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 Mount Garnet to Carpentaria Shire border section is 510.5km and requires funding to upgrade the road and floodways for reliability and to meet current construction and safety standards for heavy vehicles, tourists, and commuters. Burke Shire to the Northern Territory border is approximately 302km long with less than 50% of the road sealed.

Kennedy Developmental Road: Sealing the road in its entirety is a priority project as it will reduce costs and increase safety for all road users travelling from Tropical North Queensland to southern parts of Australia. A fully sealed highway would provide a year-round, all-weather route to southern markets for agricultural produce and livestock.

With an expanding population base and rapid growth in agricultural production, the importance of the route for economic, tourism, and critical connection has increased in recent years. Completion of the road sealing would:

  1. Ensure an alternate supply route to TNQ – vital when the Bruce Highway traffic is disrupted due to extreme weather events.
  2. Reduce the cost of transport to market from Tropical North Queensland, supporting the sustainability of primary production in northern Australia. Using this inland alternative, the distance between Cairns and Melbourne is reduced by 800km, saving 8-10 hours in travel time.
  3. Provide the opportunity for economic development and growth in agriculture (including irrigation), mining, tourism, and freight along with a multitude of employment, lifestyle, and social benefits that will follow.
  4. Enhance Queensland’s road infrastructure, demonstrating the integrated capacity as a catalyst for northern Australia development.
  5. Enhance supply chains in time of need, providing sovereign capability.

Over the course of constructing the Kennedy Developmental Road upgrade, it has been estimated that 130 jobs were created, including Indigenous employment, with more than 100km of highway being sealed.

NEXT STEPS

Savannah Way (Gulf Section): Upgrading the remaining sections is estimated to require investment of at least $39.8 million annually over 10 years (including the $62.5m already committed). Completing the project over a 10-year period with annual investments to local councils will allow for incremental improvements on this road and ensure the retention of a local roads workforce. The estimated investment breakdown over 10 years for each local shire is as follows:

  • Burke Shire to NT Border – ~$64m
  • Carpentaria Shire – ~$185m
  • Croydon Shire – ~$78m
  • Etheridge Shire – ~$71m

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.

Kennedy Developmental Road: In the most recent round of government funding of $50 million under the Northern Australia Roads Program, the Flinders and Etheridge Shire have completed 21.8km of sealing and widening works with a further 16km currently underway, and it is expected to complete a further 12km of sealing works by June, 2022. However, the final 11km section of unsealed road on the Hann Highway will not be covered under the current funding agreement. Sealing the remaining section as well as the White Cliffs realignment is expected to cost $25 million.

OUR RECOMMENDATION
  • That the Federal and State Governments support the sealing and improved flood resilience of the Gulf section of the Savannah Way by providing project funding, and that allocation of funds be distributed to the controlling Local Government Authorities in equal portions over a 10-year period from 2021-2022.
  • That the Federal Government provides $25m to seal the final 11km of the Kennedy Developmental Road and complete the White Cliffs realignment to ensure this key strategic route between Cairns and southern freight hubs is sealed in its entirety.

SOURCES
  1. https://www.northqueenslandregister.com.au/story/5611276/inland-queensland-road-network-strategy-launched/
  2. https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/map/queensland-inland-road-network-upgrade
  3. Keirle, P, (2018) Gulf Savannah Way Tourism Survey Report, Gulf Savannah Development
PRIORITY: Infrastructure
COUNCILS: Burke, Carpentaria, Doomadgee, Flinders, Etheridge, Croydon
STATE ELECTORATE: Hill, Traeger
FEDERAL ELECTORATE: Kennedy