Community & Business

23 April, 2024

Pressure mounts for rethink on range road

THE unreliability and fragility of the Kuranda Range Road after suffering significant damage late last year has prompted calls for the State Government to review a 2021 study which concluded that an alternative road from the northern Tablelands to the coast was not needed for 30 years.

Damage caused by Cyclone Jasper on the range road.
Damage caused by Cyclone Jasper on the range road.

Massive scars on the hillsides clearly show the extent of the landslides that occurred in December, with part of the road collapsing altogether, and regular closures for works to be undertaken are driving commuters around the bend, as well as those caused by accidents – one that shut the range road for seven hours earlier this month.

A truck roller on 11 April shut the Kuranda Range Road for seven hours.
A truck roller on 11 April shut the Kuranda Range Road for seven hours.

The Express Yourself survey conducted in February, which yielded 1045 responses, also showed that 92% of locals want an alternative to the Kuranda Range Road urgently and they don’t feel safe driving it anymore.

But Member for Cook Cynthia Lui is sticking by her government’s stance on the issue, agreeing with Transport Minister Bart Mellish that there is no need for an alternative road until 2051 as concluded by the Cairns to Northern Tablelands Access Strategy in 2021. 

“TMR’s 2021 study on Kuranda Range Road was extensive and it will help to inform the best way to allocate the $262.5 million in funding from the Albanese and Miles governments,” she said.

“I understand Minister Mellish is working closely with the Federal Government to get this funding into road upgrades on the range as soon as possible including, potentially, shoulder widening and slope stability treatments at strategic locations.”

She also rejected any suggestion that laying the cabling for the Intelligent Transport System was in any way connected to the major collapse of a section of the road where one of the digital signs was installed. 

“My advice is there is no evidence the Kuranda Range Road Intelligent Transport System infrastructure increased the risk of landslips on Kuranda Range Road,” she said.

That conclusion has been rejected by One Nation candidate for Cook Peter Campion who predicted the outcome in a letter to a newspaper in January 2023, and now lays the blame for the situation squarely at the feet of Ms Lui and Member for Barron River Craig Crawford.

“As to the ‘Intelligent Transport System’ (Lol!), all those trenches zigzagging across the road seem certain to destabilise the road’s foundations. If you think a car slithering into your path is a problem, just wait until the whole road sloughs away,” he wrote last year.

“The pictures that have been circulated showing the camera system’s conduits spanning the landslide sites suggest my prediction was realised,” he told The Express last week.

“The Labor MPs for Cook and Barron River should’ve known that destabilising the foundation of this vital road link for spy cameras of questionable utility was a terrible idea. They should have ordered the bureaucrats they control to either link the cameras by radio or abandon the project entirely.

“I accurately predicted the outcome of all that digging and so should have they.”

Peak advocacy organisations in the region are now calling on the government to rethink its position on the road link.

The body that represents all local governments in the region, FNQ Regional Organisation of Councils, says it wants a review of the 2021 document. 

“In light of the issues, and following substantial damage in December, FNQROC has deepened its discussions with State Ministers and Main Roads officials,” chief executive officer Anthony Archie said.

“We are urging a review of the conclusions drawn in the 2021 Cairns Northern Tablelands Access Study.

“The recent severe weather events, including TC Jasper, which uniquely closed all range roads simultaneously, have shown that the risk assessments and strategies of the 2021 study may no longer be adequate. 

“We believe it is crucial to revisit this study and strategies to reflect the current and future needs of our region.”

Mr Archie said FNQROC had been advocating for the State and Federal Governments to jointly develop a long-term strategy for range access strategy that “identifies how, what, where, and when an existing range road needs to be upgraded, or a new range road”.

“The desired outcome is a robust infrastructure capable of withstanding severe weather events, accommodating projected population and economic growth, and significantly enhancing road safety,” he said.

“Given the rapid growth of our region - the largest regional population outside Southeast Queensland, with significant recent growth - it is clear that a more proactive and sustainable approach is required.”

The region’s peak lobby group, Advance Cairns, says the government should stop denying the reality that the road is inadequate as a critical route.

“It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of readers of The Express see an urgent need for better access to Cairns than the current trouble-plagued Kuranda Range Road,” Chair Nick Trompf said.

“Advance Cairns and FNQROC have for years campaigned for a study into alternative route or routes, given the complexity of upgrading the current road.

“The events post Cyclone Jasper further highlighted the unreliability of this major artery connecting the Atherton Tablelands with the coast and Advance Cairns reiterates its call for a study into alternatives to the Kuranda Range Road.

“It’s not good enough to deny there is a need to improve this vital access between Cairns and the fast-growing Atherton Tablelands.”


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