O’BRIEN SAYS FAST TRACK FOUR LANE TIARO BYPASS NOW
In a media release on 14 March the Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey claimed that the four lane Tiaro bypass is on track all because a design study has started – but in the eyes of our Wide Bay community, this vital project is already woefully behind.
It is surprising that the Minister would declare the project is on track when construction hasn’t even started yet, it’s not likely to be completed until at least 2027 or later, and people are losing their lives and being seriously injured on this dangerous section of the Bruce Highway right now.
The number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities this year alone on our treacherous section of the Bruce Highway between Gympie and Maryborough should be enough justification for the Queensland Government to fast track and prioritise the Tiaro bypass and save more lives sooner along this dangerous section of highway.
Governments can prioritise and fast-track projects to upgrade the Bruce Highway, they have done so in the past and just need the will to do so now.
Sections A and B of the Cooroy to Curra four lane project are cases in point.
In 2009, when the State Labor Government wanted to flood the Mary Valley and with it, eight kilometres of the Bruce Highway with Labor’s ill-fated Traveston Crossing dam, former Premier Anna Bligh, together with former Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, fast tracked Section B of the Cooroy to Curra four lane upgrade project to re-route the highway to prevent it from going under dam water.
Believing the Traveston Crossing dam would go ahead and doubting the strength and veracity of the Gympie community’s No Dam campaign (which ultimately forced then Environment Minister Peter Garrett to intervene and axe the dam) Premier Bligh and Minister Albanese prioritised and fast tracked Section B, along a route that now skirts around the non-existent dam, that was longer, more expensive, and more environmentally intrusive than the community’s preferred route.
It was always very strange to start a road construction project of that magnitude not at Section A, which would have extended the four lane section of highway that terminated at Cooroy, up to Sankeys Road. Instead, Section A was skipped over in favour of constructing Section B. Section B comprised a four lane stretch, extending from Sankeys to Traveston Road, right in the middle of the Section A, B and C project corridor from Cooroy to Woondum on the outskirts of Gympie.
Knowing that a project divided into Sections A, B and C should start with Section A, the Queensland LNP Government in 2012 prioritised and fast tracked construction of Section A. Projects along the national highway are usually funded on a Federal 80 per cent and State 20 per cent funding split, but recognising the Section A job had to be done urgently the State LNP Government committed 50 per cent of the cost to bring construction forward.
Prior to the Section A, B and C projects, the Bruce Highway between Cooroy and Gympie was one of the deadliest stretches of the national highway. But the completion of these Sections have transformed it into one of the safest with a four lane divided road, protecting motorists from high speed head on collisions.
So why is there no sense of urgency about building the rest of the Bruce Highway through Wide Bay to the same safe world class standard, starting with the four-lane Tiaro bypass?
On 13 July 2021 then Infrastructure and Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce wrote to Minister Bailey to confirm the Federal Government’s 80 per cent share of funding for the four-lane Tiaro bypass is available, writing that “the Australian Government is committed to delivering this vital project as soon as possible and our funding will be profiled to achieve this outcome.”
On 17 November 2022 the new Infrastructure and Transport Minister Catherine King told local media the “Australian Government’s contribution is budgeted and ready to flow as the Queensland Government achieves agreed milestones” and “construction is expected to start early next year and is due for completion in late 2024.”
These statements from both stripes of the Federal Government confirmed its willingness to stump up funding for the Tiaro bypass and indicated it should take two years to construct.
So the roadblock isn’t at the Federal level.
However, the Queensland Government’s funding profile indicates that it won’t start major construction until 2024-25, and more than $150 million won’t be spent until 2026-27 and beyond.
The $1 billion, 26 kilometre four lane Gympie bypass is taking around four years to build and is expected to open mid next year. In contrast, the $336 million four lane Tiaro bypass is only nine kilometres long, but the funding profile shows it won’t open until at least 2027 but most likely later.
The Tiaro bypass is almost two thirds shorter than the Gympie bypass yet the Queensland Government proposes to take the same amount of time, four years, to build it. The Federal Minister says it should only take two years. Which is it?
There are 11,000 vehicle movements between Gympie and Maryborough every day and if our section of the Bruce Highway between Gympie and Maryborough was in New South Wales or Victoria it would already be four lanes. Federal and State Governments have short-changed our section of the national highway and it’s high time they got moving on it. That’s why when I was first elected, I fought for funding for the four lane Gympie bypass, then for the four lane Tiaro bypass, and why I’m fighting for funding for the whole section between Gympie and Maryborough to be four lanes.
But even when the Federal share of funding is locked in, the Queensland Government has a shocking track record on delivering projects on time. The Tinana overtaking lanes and the Bells Bridge intersection upgrade were finally delivered years overdue, and funding for the Gootchie intersection upgrades was announced in January 2019 and construction is still underway now, more than four years later.
The Queensland Government knows how to prioritise and fast track projects. It is spending billions on the 2032 Brisbane Olympics to rush infrastructure in the south-east corner of state for the Games, which will all be built long before we see a full four lane Bruce Highway through Wide Bay. The Queensland Labor Government has the political will to give priority to the Brisbane Olympics, but it refuses to do anything to bring forward four laning the Bruce Highway through Wide Bay, which continues to claim lives and cause injuries.
The Queensland Government doesn’t share our ambition to fast track and prioritise the Tiaro bypass. It cares more about red carpet photo opportunities and the Brisbane Olympic Games than people like you and me in Gympie and Maryborough and every other motorist on our section of the Bruce Highway.
The people of Wide Bay would be far more interested if Minister Bailey announced when the four lane Tiaro bypass would be completed rather than telling us it’s on track just because a design study has started.