Speech - Making the case for Section D Cooroy to Curra - Federation Chamber
Earlier today I led a delegation of Wide Bay mayors, Mick Curran from Gympie, Chris Loft from Fraser Coast, Jack Dempsey from Bundaberg, Rachel Chambers from North Burnett, and Keith Campbell from South Burnett, as well as Bill Trevor and Scott Rowe from Regional Development Australia Wide Bay Burnett, to meet with Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester. Together we impressed upon him how important the Section D Cooroy to Curra Bruce Highway project is for the Wide Bay-Burnett region, our state, and our nation.
The Bruce Highway connects 58 per cent of the state’s population, running up the coast from Brisbane to Cairns. It carries major freight movements between inland production areas and 11 coastal ports and regional centres. It must be a long term vision of the Liberal-National Party to make this piece of infrastructure fit for the 21st century by planning a world class four lane high speed highway connecting Brisbane to Cairns and all communities in between.
The Rudd Government jeopardised the whole Cooroy to Curra project when they junked the Coalition’s 2007 election commitment to complete the whole project by 2020.
Since returning to office the Coalition has got the Cooroy to Curra project back on track. But even so, without Section D, the job is only half done.
Section B, which goes around the non-existent Traveston Crossing dam was constructed before the Coalition’s return to office. Section A from Cooroy to Sankeys Road, was constructed by the Coalition, and opened last month, providing a new 13.5km 4-lane divided highway from Cooroy to outside Pomona. Section C of the Bruce Highway between Traveston and Woondum is well ahead of schedule.
We now need a commitment from State and Federal Governments to fund the biggest project, Section D, a 26km highway section from Woondum to Curra that skirts around Gympie. Where I come from, you don’t do half a job. That’s why we need to secure funding to construct this nation-building project as soon as possible.
Over 150km of the Bruce passes through my electorate of Wide Bay. It provides critical linkages for freight transport between inland primary production areas of North and South Burnett and major regional centres of Gympie, Maryborough and Bundaberg. South East Queensland is expected to grow massively in the coming decades. The number of vehicles using the Bruce is growing by 2.8 percent each year, with freight volumes set to double by 2026.
Graham Richers is Managing Director of Richers Transport, a transport company servicing the eastern seaboard. Every week day, his fleet requires approximately 130 heavy vehicle movements travelling across the Cooroy to Curra section. He tells me that “the freight task is increasing every year, and in order to continue to provide safe, efficient and effective road transport services, we, like many other businesses in this area, are seeking commitment that section D is expedited as quickly as possible”. I couldn’t agree with him more. That’s why I’m doing everything I can to ensure Governments fast-track Section D so transporters, tourists and motorists can reap the benefits.
The Bruce Highway is the main access to the region from the North and South. Each year it contributes $11.5 billion to Queensland’s economy and supports over 60,000 jobs. This will grow in the years to come with the emerging Port of Bundaberg. In order to export produce from South-East Queensland, industry needs to transport their goods as quickly and efficiently as possible. This requires separating long distance freight from local traffic movements.
By funding Section D, the missing link, we will transform this part of the Bruce into the high-speed, high-volume corridor it is intended to be. Section D will benefit Wide Bay’s tourism and agricultural industries by improving access to the Cooloola Coast.
The flow-on effects of reducing highway bottlenecks are huge, benefiting both supply chains and labour mobility. Section D will provide jobs for the Wide Bay region in the construction phase, and boost South East Queensland’s productivity once completed.
We don’t just do things because they are economically sound. People need decent places to live and raise families. The Gympie region is set to grow significantly in the coming decades, reaching 64,000 people by 2036. Yet increasing traffic volumes and long queues at traffic lights on the highway through Gympie frustrate everyone. The Bruce passes a number of suburban streets and a number of schools in Gympie, causing gridlock on busy days. Gympie locals picking up groceries and taking their kids to school find themselves competing dangerously on the highway with big trucks and cars that have been travelling at highway speeds.
The RACQ estimates congestion costs the economy $16.5 billion per year, and by 2031 this figure is set to skyrocket to $53 billion. In their Motoring Matters report the RACQ strongly advocated funding for Section D. The project is expected to cut congestion in Gympie, reducing highway travel times by avoiding six sets of traffic lights, eight different speed zones and two school zones. It will make journeys faster and most importantly safer, for people using the highway and those living around it.
As a former crash investigator, there is nothing that frustrates me more than a road that locals know is unsafe - but politicians thousands of kilometres away in Canberra choose to ignore. In 2014 the Bruce Highway was named and shamed as one of the world’s top 25 dangerous roads, on a list that included Bolivia’s ‘Death Road’ and the infamous Trans-Siberian Highway.
Since 2011, there have been 9 fatalities and over 50 injuries around Section D, with the Gympie section having the highest crash rate. 13,800 vehicles travel on this Highway through Gympie each day, with 173 casualty crashes and 25 deaths between 2003 and 2007. Traffic accidents are a burden on our nation, and one death is one too many. They account for around 18 percent of acute care bed days and 29 percent of Intensive Care Unit admissions in Queensland hospitals.
Statistics tell part of the story, but when you make the gut-wrenching walk to someone’s doorstep and tell them their loved one isn’t coming home you realise the full magnitude of it. Each year, there is an average of 50 deaths on the Bruce Highway. The RACQ estimates that without future action, there will be 350 deaths and 5,000 injuries over the next decade.
The Coalition has done much to make the highway safer, including constructing extra overtaking lanes and widening the centre line gap. But we can do more. Section D will reduce head on crashes, which account for 55 per cent of all fatalities on the Cooroy to Curra section, and ensure that people living and passing through Wide Bay can get from point A to B safely.
The floods through Wide Bay show that Queenslanders are strong and resilient people. The Bruce Highway is the key route for transporting medical supplies, food, fuel and other necessities to affected flood areas. But time and time again the highway has proven to be vulnerable. In the past 20 years, the Bruce around Gympie has been cut at least five times, including a combined seven days in 2011. By investing in the Gympie bypass, Section D will be above the Q100 flood level, ensuring supplies can get through in the event of flood and major weather episodes. We can never be sure what the future holds, but Section D will give South-East Queenslanders peace of mind knowing that in the event of a disaster their main roads are secure.
I made the importance of funding Section D clear to Minister Chester today. I want to thank him for his continued interest in Wide Bay and his effort in making our roads safer. I also wish to thank the Mayors and the RDA for their continued support of Section D, as well as my state colleagues for Hervey Bay, Maryborough, Gympie, and Burnett.
I am continuing to take the fight to Canberra on behalf of our region to make sure the Federal Government listens, understands and acts to deliver this project.
The economic benefits of Section D are clear, but the safety of Australians on highways should always paramount. If we manage to save even one life with this project, then it will be a job worth doing.