Productivity suffers amid calls for new highway

Floodwaters cripple industry productivity, while a council calls for an alternative to the Barkly Highway in light of recent events

By Brad Gardner

Floodwaters are crippling industry productivity, while a council calls for an alternative to the Barkly Highway in light of recent events.

Louise Bilato, the executive officer of the Australian Trucking Association’s Northern Territory (ATA-NT) branch, says truck drivers have had to take longer routes into the Territory, in some cases adding more than 2000km to a trip.

As a result, she says some road train operators had had to dump trailers on the side of the road because of axle restrictions on some of the alternative routes.

The highway closure is also affecting key product supplies, with Bilato saying automotive parts are scarce as well as simple items such as newspapers, stationary and cardboard.

"The floods are inconvenient, costly and are causing significant delays," she says.

And it seems the issue will not be resolved soon.

The ATA-NT does not expect the Territory Government to grant heavy vehicle access to the Barkly Highway for at least another 15 days.

"But that is being optimistic," Bilato says.

Bilato says work rejoining the road is expected to begin today, with the Government waiting for waters to recede before laying 3000 tonnes of rock.

A single lane of the highway is due to open to light traffic next week after the Government has assessed the damage, which was caused when floods washed the road away.

The impact of the floods on the highway as well as connecting routes throughout northern and western Queensland has once again raised the issue of funding for the Outback Highway.

The Outback Highway Developmental Council has lobbied for funds to seal 1700km of the 2800km route, which links Western Australia, the Territory and Queensland.

The council’s chairman Patrick Hill told the ABC funding should be fast-tracked with $50 million from the Federal Government.

He wants the Territory to match the funding, saying the $20 million already granted for the project has almost run out.

"Obviously the Queensland and Northern Territory Government need to come on board with this a lot more...and recognise that this route has to be done up and it is a better alternative route than the one that is there now," Hill says.

Although more routes in Queensland have been opened, all roads in the Diamantina Shire have been closed, while gradual openings are being accompanied by strict conditions.

Main Roads has imposed an 80 percent axle load limit on the Kennedy Development Road, while the Landsborough Highway between Winton has width restrictions.

"Load limits are put in place where required for safety reasons and to prevent further damage to water-saturated roads," a statement from Main Roads says.

The department will conduct aerial and ground inspections to determine where to set load limits on other flood-affected routes.

Main Roads says key roads currently affected by floodwaters including Eyre Developmental Roads and Muttaburra and Winton roads.

However, the Bruce Highway has opened to all traffic, while a 25-tonne gross load limit has been put in place on the Gregory Developmental Road until January 20.

Main Roads has completed maintenance on the Kuranda Range and both lanes have been open to all traffic.

However, the Gillies Range has been reduced to one lane outside peak times as maintenance crews remove debris.

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