Great Northern Highway

Infrastructure Australia has added the Western Australian government’s proposed road upgrade, Bindoon Bypass, and the Queensland Government’s Peak Downs Highway Realignment Project (Walkerston Bypass) to the Infrastructure Priority List. ARTC’s North East Rail Line upgrade, however, will not be included in the list due to cost concerns.

The proposed Bindoon Bypass aims to increase freight efficiency and productivity by enabling access for triple road trains for the entire trip between Muchea and Wubin on the Great Northern Highway as existing road alignments and gradients between Wubin and Muchea are unsuitable.

The scope of work includes 61.6km of new highway to the west of Bindoon, comprising a single carriageway in each direction, along with 4.4km of infrastructure improvements to the existing highway, two grade-separated intersections and 13 at-grade intersection upgrades.

New bridge structures and 10km of service roads will also form part of the design. Additional safety enhancements will include overtaking lanes every five to 10km and four new rest stops suitable for accommodating light vehicles and road trains.

Infrastructure Australia recognises the strategic role the Great Northern Highway plays in linking Perth’s metropolitan area and Australia’s north-west.

“Due to the significant growth of the resources sector in Western Australia, there continues to be considerable demand to move freight along the Great Northern Highway corridor between ports located in the metropolitan Perth area and the north-west of the state, such as Port Hedland, Cape Lambert and Dampier,” Infrastructure Australia Chief Executive, Ms Romily Madew, said.

“As it stands, we are seeing drivers forced to stop at Wubin to decouple and reconfigure their vehicles into smaller truck and trailer configurations, such as double road trains or even smaller vehicles for this section of the highway.

“This operation decreases freight productivity and efficiency since more truck trips are then required to deliver the same freight task, leading to an overall net increase in transport costs per unit of freight transported.”

The Western Australia Government estimates the cost of this problem will sit at $62 million by 2025 and expects it to grow to $86 million by 2045.

“It’s not only about cost and efficiency we also know these additional truck trips between Muchea and Wubin increase the safety risk and potential number of accidents for vehicles travelling through Bindoon and other sections of the corridor,” Ms Madew said.

Specifically on the Bindoon section of the corridor, heavy vehicles comprise approximately 66 per cent of the total traffic.

The Walkerston Bypass project includes a 10.4km realignment of the Peak Downs Highway, from west of Walkerston to the Mackay Ring Road at Stockroute Road. The bypass design will have one lane in each direction and be designed to accommodate vehicles with very large loads.

Other features of the proposed Walkerston Bypass include the provision of approximately 1.5km of four-lane carriageway between Homebush Road and Bergmans Road to facilitate overtaking; four at-grade intersections, including the existing Peak Downs Highway at the western end of the bypass; grade separation at Bergman’s Road and Walkerston-Homebush Road; four new bridges and relocation of cane rail infrastructure, including provision of underpass.

Infrastructure Australia believes the road project is a sound investment and recognises the Peak Downs Highway as a State Strategic road because of its importance to the Mackay and Queensland economies.

“The Peak Downs Highway, which currently runs through the township of Walkerston, is the primary freight corridor between Mackay, the Bowen Basin and Galilee Basin minerals provinces in Queensland,” Ms Madew said.

“Right now we know Walkerston is already dealing with serious safety, capacity and connectivity issues due to the sheer amount of heavy and dangerous vehicles that travel along this section of the highway and with freight numbers expected to increase, the impacts are only going to get worse.

“By diverting traffic away from Walkerston’s main street, the new bypass will provide increased freight capacity, more direct connectivity for large vehicles, increased flood resilience, improved freight efficiency, safety and amenity benefits for the local residents as well as creating an opportunity for urban expansion.”

The Infrastructure Priority List provides governments at all levels with a prioritised list of nationally-significant investment opportunities for the near, medium and longer term.

Following the evaluation of ARTC’s business case for the North East Rail Line upgrade, Infrastructure Australia determined that the project will not be included on the priority list due to the costs out-weighing the benefits.

“We recognise the importance of good-quality regional rail transport to give people genuine travel choices and equitable service levels,” Ms Madew said.

“We know compared to other regional Victorian passenger lines, there is relatively poor punctuality, and reliability on the North East Rail Line. However, based on the current evidence available, the cost of the project would significantly outweigh its benefits.”

The proponent for the proposed upgrade of the 316km rail line that connects Melbourne to Albury is solely ARTC. Infrastructure Australia recommends the proponent explores alternative options, possibly with faster and more frequent services, which would achieve a better balance of the expected costs and benefits.

Infrastructure Australia regularly assesses business cases for nationally significant projects as part of its role as an independent advisor to governments. It would welcome a revised business case from ARTC, said Ms Madew.

Infrastructure Australia is currently developing the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List, which is due for release early next year.

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