National Highway A1

Tertiary Hospital
  • TNQ’s road transport system is under pressure due to population growth, particularly on the road network around Cairns which is the main distribution hub for the region.
  • The Bruce Highway is one of Australia’s highest-risk roads and in the 5 years to 2020, there were 604casualty crashes and 33 fatalities on the stretch between Cairns and Townsville.
  • The Kuranda Range Road has already exceeded its capacity of 9,500 vehicle movements per day, catering for up to 10,000 daily traffic movements. In 2018-2019, the road was closed more than 130 times due to crashes.
  • While the Bruce Highway has seen unprecedented State and Federal investment since 2013, many future TNQ projects are scheduled for commencement after 2023. It is essential these be brought forward to address critical congestion and safety issues.
  • A strategic transport plan linking Cairns and Townsville is required, together with a significant upgrade of Kuranda Range Road.

An integrated and efficient road transport network is critical for economic stability and growth in northern Australia. In Tropical North Queensland (TNQ), the road network underpins the economy and is vital to the resident population of 286 873, ensuring accessibility to health, education and community services.

Due to rapid population growth, TNQ’s road transport system faces increasing pressure, particularly on the road network in and out of Cairns which acts as the main distribution hub for the region. Meeting the growing demand for freight has strained existing infrastructure, impacting transport costs and service levels across the supply chain. The strain has been exacerbated by uneven population dispersion, the shared passenger transport task on TNQ roads, and resilience gaps in the road network which is frequently impacted by weather events.

Via road, the city of Cairns is serviced by four main arterial roads, two of which are critical freight routes – the Bruce Highway and the Kennedy Highway.

The Bruce Highway is part of the National Highway A1, providing the vital link between Cairns and Townsville, other Queensland coastal cities and Brisbane. The highway supports the transport of freight into and out of the region. The National Highway A1 was extended by the Federal Government in 2020 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, with $359 million allocated.
The Kuranda Range Road (Kennedy Highway, Cairns/Mareeba section) links Smithfield with Kuranda and is the coastal gateway to the Atherton Tablelands, Cape York Peninsula and the Gulf Savannah. It is a critical link for commuter, commercial and visitor traffic in TNQ and a vital strategic corridor linking the Atherton Tableland, North Tropical Coast and Cape York to the Cairns Airport.

Both the Bruce Highway and Kuranda Range Road underpin the commercial viability of primary industries, producers and exporters in the region. However, both are operating at or near capacity with safety and traffic efficiency now at critical levels for action.

While unprecedented State and Federal funding has been allocated for Bruce Highway upgrades between Cairns and Townsville, to maintain and grow TNQ’s competitiveness through improved productivity a number of catalytic projects are still needed.

This need is supported by the 2009-2031 Far North Queensland Regional Plan, which recommends that the Department of Main Roads plan for and preserve transport corridors to construct bypass roads around Innisfail, Ingham, Cardwell and Tully, and plan for and construct the duplication of Kuranda Range Road.



Over the past decade, the Bruce Highway has consistently been rated one of Australia’s highest-risk roads. In 2016 the highway accounted for 17% of National casualty crashes on only 7.5% of the entire national network. On the 299 km section between Cairns and Townsville, which carries an estimated 17,250 vehicles per day, in the five years to 2020 there were 604 casualty crashes and 33 fatalities.

To address the significant safety issues, in 2013 the Federal Government introduced the $12.6 billion Bruce Highway Upgrade Program, which has led to step-change investments in north Queensland sections of the highway. Together with the State Government, to date this has delivered: $610 million for Stages 1 to 4 of Cairns Southern Access upgrades with another $225 million committed for Stage 5; $9 million committed for Innisfail bypass planning; $48 million committed to plan for the Cardwell Range deviation; and another $99.8million committed for Townsville Northern Access upgrades.

In contrast to the Bruce Highway, the Kuranda Range Road has been the subject of multiple impact assessment and design studies dating back to 2000 but is yet to see significant investment. The road has already exceeded its capacity of 9,500 vehicle movements per day, catering for up to 10,000 daily traffic movements. And in the 10 years to August 2018, the Cairns to Mareeba section of Kennedy Highway experienced 493 unplanned closures with total closure time of 1,111 hours and an average close time per incident of 2 hours and 15 minutes. While the need to upgrade the road was identified in the 2009-2031 Far North Queensland Infrastructure Plan, more than 10 years on this remains a critical infrastructure project but is yet to secure significant funding.



A number of significant investments have been announced that will continue to address safety and efficiency challenges on the TNQ road network. However, many of these projects are scheduled for commencement after 2023. To address the critical congestion and safety issues faced on the road transport network, it is essential that the following key projects be brought forward and commenced in 2021-2024:

  1. Kuranda Range Road: Release the findings of the $1.25 million Cairns to Northern Tablelands access strategy (completed).
  2. Kuranda Range Road: Business case ($20 million) to design and cost upgrades by 2022.
  3. Captain Cook Highway: Complete planning for upgrade between Cairns and Smithfield and include $359 million allocated for construction in budget forward estimates for 2022-2025.
  4. Bruce Highway, Innisfail Bypass: Continue to preserve the existing bypass corridor and commence transport project planning ($9 million) with a view to completion by 2022.
  5. Bruce Highway, Ingham to Cardwell Range Deviation: Continue to preserve the existing transport corridor and commence transport project planning ($48 million) with a view to completion by 2023.
  6. Bruce Highway, Cairns to Townsville: Develop a strategic transport plan for the Bruce Hwy which links northern Australia’s two largest centres, Cairns and Townsville.
  • That the Queensland Government releases the findings of the $1.25 million Cairns to Northern Tablelands access strategy, which was completed in late 2020
  • That, following the release of the access strategy, the Queensland and Federal Governments commit $20 million (shared 50:50) to undertake, preliminary evaluation and business case for Kuranda Range Road.
  • That through the Bruce Highway program, the State and Federal Governments bring forward their commitments to upgrade north Queensland sections of the National Highway A1 to 2022-2025, and commit to developing a strategic transport plan linking Cairns and Townsville.
  • That the National Highway A1 be extended to Weipa as part of the National Land Transport Network (NLTN)

PRIORITY: Infrastructure
COUNCIL: Cairns, Mareeba, Cassowary Coast, Hinchinbrook, Townsville
STATE ELECTORATE: Barron River, Cairns, Mulgrave, Hill, Hinchinbrook, Townsville
FEDERAL ELECTORATE: Herbert, Leichhardt, Kennedy
8+8 map Cairns