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2 February, 2022

The new road forward

A GROUP of passionate locals has been quietly working hard behind the scenes to shore up what they believe is the best viable alternative route to link the northern Tablelands to Cairns.

By Rhys Thomas

Ron Reddicliffe with the plans for the proposed new highway to connect the Northern Tablelands to Cairns.

Dubbed the Reddicliffe Highway, the new alternative route would completely negate the need for daily commuters and freight vehicles to use the Kuranda Range Road, and would only take under half an hour to reach Cairns from Mareeba. 

Reddicliffe Highway Steering Committee member Ken Harley is confident the route is not only financially viable but also environmentally friendly and would enable the region to reap major economic benefits as outlined in a report from respected economist Bill Cummings. 

He said unfortunately a lot of people were confused about what the Reddicliffe Highway was and, more importantly, that it was a completely different proposal than the Bridle Track being promoted by Member for Kennedy Bob Katter and Member for Hill Shane Knuth. 

“Please understand that the people working hard on the Reddicliffe Highway proposal are in no way connected to Katter or Knuth or the KAP and their Bridle Track proposal,” Mr Harley said. 

“The science and the information that was presented to the people of Mareeba last year at the racecourse is the science that is connected to the Reddicliffe Highway.” 

Mr Harley said the issue of an alternative route to Cairns had unfortunately become politicised but his group were focussed on fleshing out the details of their proposal and getting that in front of appropriate authorities. 

“This road is beyond politics – it is about safety and the future economy,” he said. 

The steering committee consists of Ken Harley, Greg Williams and Ron Reddicliffe himself, along with over 30 supporters and backers from differing backgrounds including environmental experts, economic professionals and engineers. 

The proposed highway is the brainchild of Mr Reddicliffe who first designed the alternative route in the 1960s at the behest of former Queensland Minister Martin Tenni and former Mareeba Mayor Mick Borzi. 

Due to his knowledge of the area and his skill in road building, Mr Tenni asked Mr Reddicliffe to design a road to better connect Mareeba to Cairns. 

“In the 60s, Martin Tenni and Mick Borzi both knew that the Kuranda Range wasn’t going to cut the cake in the future,” Mr Harley said. 

“Martin Tenni used to look at the roads that Ron would build for his haul trucks, and he said to Ron ‘Why can’t you build me a road to Cairns like that?’ and Ron said he could.” 

Mr Reddicliffe then started developing the plans for the new route, including options for rail lines, new water sources and even the possibility to connect the road further towards Biboohra in the future. 

To date, the steering committee has developed a plan and commissioned Mr Cummings to prepare an economic impact and justification analysis of the Kuranda Range Road compared to the proposed Reddicliffe Highway. 

The analysis indicated that savings in travel time and vehicle costs would deliver upwards of $1 billion dollars per year if a more direct route to Cairns was established. 

The steering committee is now focussed on drawing attention to the proposal, particularly those in government who could help bring the highway to fruition. 

To that end, they have already met with Federal Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch and have scheduled an upcoming meeting with Member for Barron River Craig Crawford this month. 

Mr Crawford released the results of the $1.6m study looking into alternative routes late last week. According to the study, there will be no need to construct another route from the Northern Tablelands to Cairns until at least 2051, however the study did conclude that investigations into what the best route would be should be undertaken in the meantime.

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