State can prioritise but chooses not to
OPINION – Llew O’Brien Wide Bay MP
In a media release on March 14, Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey claimed the four-lane Tiaro bypass was on track all because a design study had begun – but in the eyes of our Wide Bay community, this important project already woefully behind.
It is surprising that the Minister would declare that the project is on track when construction has not even started, it is not likely to be completed until 2027 or later, and people are losing their lives and being seriously injured on this dangerous section of the Bruce Highway at the moment.
The number of accidents, injuries and deaths this year alone on our treacherous section of the Bruce Freeway between Gympie and Maryborough should be enough justification for the Queensland Government to speed up and prioritize the Tiaro Bypass, saving more lives sooner along this dangerous stretch of highway.
Governments can prioritize and accelerate projects to upgrade the Bruce Highway, they have done it in the past and just need the will to do it now.
Sections A and B of the Cooroy to Curra Quadruple Project are examples.
In 2009, when the state Labor government wanted to flood the Mary Valley and with it, 8 kilometers of the Bruce Highway with Labour’s ill-fated Traveston Crossing dam, former premier Anna Bligh, along with former infrastructure and transport minister Anthony Albanese , driven fast. Section B of the Cooroy to Curra four-lane upgrade project to reroute the highway to prevent it from going under dam water.
Believing that the Traveston Crossing Dam would go ahead and questioning the strength and veracity of the Gympie community’s No Dam campaign (which eventually forced then Environment Minister Peter Garrett to step in and ax the dam) , Prime Minister Bligh and Minister Albanian prioritized and fast-tracked Section B. a route that now goes around the non-existent dam, which was longer, more expensive and more environmentally invasive than the community’s preferred route.
It was always very strange not to start a road construction project of that magnitude at Section A, which would have extended the four-lane section of the highway that ended at Cooroy to Sankeys Road. Instead, Section A was skipped in favor of building Section B. Section B consisted of a four-lane stretch stretching from Sankeys to Traveston Road, right in the middle of the Section A, B and C project corridor from Cooroy to Apartment on the outskirts of Gympie.
Knowing that a project divided into Sections A, B and C must start with Section A, the Queensland LNP government in 2012 prioritized and fast-tracked construction of Section A. Projects along the national highway are usually carried out on a federal 80 percent and state 20 funded. per cent funding split, but recognizing the Section A work needed to be done urgently, the State LNP Government committed 50 per cent of the cost to advance construction.
Before the Section A, B and C projects, the Bruce Highway between Cooroy and Gympie was one of the deadliest sections of the national highway. But the completion of these Sections 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, the then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Barnaby Joyce wrote to Minister Bailey to confirm that the Federal Government’s 80 per cent share of funding for the four-lane Tiaro Bypass was available and wrote that “the Australian Government to are committed to delivering this important project as soon as possible and our funding will be profiled to achieve this outcome.”
On 17 November 2022, the new Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Catherine King, told local media that the “Australian Government’s contribution is budgeted and ready to flow as the Queensland Government reaches agreed milestones” and “construction is expected to begin early next year and should be completed in late 2024.”
These statements from both stripes of the Federal Government confirmed its willingness to stop funding for the Tiaro bypass and indicated that it would take two years to build.
So the roadblock is not at the federal level.
However, the Queensland Government’s funding profile indicates it will not begin major construction until 2024-25, and more than $150 million will not be spent until 2026-27 and beyond.
The $1 billion, 26 kilometer 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 kilometers long, but the funding profile shows it won’t open until 2027, most likely later.
The Tiaro Bypass is almost two-thirds shorter than the Gympie Bypass, but the Queensland Government proposes to take the same amount of time, four years, to build. The Federal Minister says it should only take two years. Which one 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-circuited our section of the national highway and it is high time they moved on. 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 four-lane be.
But even when the federal share of funding is included, the Queensland government has a shocking record of delivering projects on time. The Tinana overpasses and the Bells Bridge crossing upgrade were finally delivered years overdue, and funding for the Gootchie crossing upgrades was announced in January 2019 and construction is still ongoing now, more than four years later.
The Queensland Government knows how to prioritize and fast track projects. It is spending billions on the 2032 Brisbane Olympics to speed up infrastructure in the south-east corner of the state for the Games, all of which will be built long before we see a full four-lane Bruce Highway through Wide Bay. The Queensland Labor Government has the political will to prioritize the Brisbane Olympics, but it refuses to do anything to bring forward four lanes of the Bruce Highway through Wide Bay, which continues to claim lives and cause injuries.
The Queensland Government does not share our ambition to fast track and prioritize the Tiaro Bypass. It cares more about red carpet photo opportunities and the Brisbane Olympics than the likes of you and me in Gympie and Maryborough and every other motorist on our stretch of the Bruce Highway.
The people of Wide Bay would be much more interested if Minister Bailey announced when the four lane Tiaro bypass would be completed rather than telling us it is on track just because a design study has started.
– Llew O’Brien
Federal MP for Wide Bay