This 150km stretch of dirt road is a crucial transport link for Qld’s west – until it rains

Locals say an unsealed section of a major inland trucking route is in desperate need of bitumen to boost outback towns, save millions and connect Queensland’s road network to the rest of the country through the south-west of the state.

Aug 13, 2020, updated Aug 13, 2020
A road train passes through the Warri Gate at the NSW and Queensland border. (Photo: ABC)

A road train passes through the Warri Gate at the NSW and Queensland border. (Photo: ABC)

It can take up to six hours for a full road train to crawl along the 150-kilometre section of unsealed Warri Gate Road that connects southwest Queensland to New South Wales.

But the Bulloo Shire Council says a $75 million cash injection to upgrade the road could reinvigorate outback towns, save millions annually and connect Queensland’s road network to the rest of the country through the south-west.

Mayor John ‘Tractor” Ferguson is seeking a significant local project to create jobs and says the road’s upgrade is it.

He believes sealing all of the road now, instead of bit by bit, would boost Australia’s productivity, defence capabilities and improve wider road safety.

It is estimated that sealing the road would save the shire $239,289 annually on maintenance and could reduce the cost of re-routed freight by $11.58 per tonne.

Existing state and federal funding is being used to progressively seal the road in small sections.

Ferguson is frustrated by the painfully slow progress and wants to secure a commitment of $75 million over 10 years for the project.

“We need a cash injection into western Queensland to start a major project so we can get the place moving,” he said.

“It just seems to be you get past Toowoomba and the world doesn’t exist.

“The amount of money that comes out of this shire in oil, gas, wool and cattle — it’s millions and millions of dollars.

“But not a lot of that money comes back out.

“[The road network] goes right up into the Gulf, into Mt Isa, into the Tablelands where they grow a lot of fruit and vegetables and it can go into those southern states,” he said.

“You could take some of that heavy traffic off the Bruce Highway and put it straight through the centre of Australia.”

Publican Neil Turner who runs the Noccundra Hotel, more than 1000km west of Brisbane, on the Wilson River at the road’s northern end, reckons Mayor Ferguson is right.

Road can be impassable

Turner says he is losing patrons because of the Warri Gate Road’s condition.

“I ring up and say, ‘You never got here, where are you?’” he said.

“They say, ‘We got up through the gate and that road is such a disgrace we turned around and have gone home.’

“That affects the whole Bulloo Shire and everywhere else they would have gone.”

During dry periods, dust from the road reduces visibility. While in wet periods flooding channels render the road impassable.

Because of record-breaking rain in early August, the Warri Gate Road is presently closed.

A different story over the border

In July, a $145 million project to seal the Silver City Highway from Broken Hill to the Queensland board stopped at Tibooburra.

Sealing the final 50km of highway from Tibooburra to the Queensland border is due to be completed in 2022.

“There’s been about 10,000 hours of work power that’s gone into it and it’s provided around 250 jobs,” NSW Regional Transport Minister Paul Toole said from Tibooburra.

“Let me say this: this is not a road. This is more of a lifeline to those communities.

“We’ll be calling on the Queensland Government to actually get behind the road because we know there are plenty of people in Queensland that want to see it sealed.”

The Federal Government has committed $100 billion to road and rail projects across the country — $4.5 billion through the Roads of Strategic Importance Initiative (ROSI). But a ROSI corridor has not been identified in the Bulloo Shire.

Road closed because of rain

A CSIRO report commissioned by the Bulloo Shire in January evaluated a full road upgrade from The Warri Gate to Noccundra.

The report, submitted to the State Government, modelled the benefits of connecting Silver City Highway to the Queensland road network.

Transport and Main Roads Queensland supports the Bulloo Council’s desire to seal the Warri Gate Road.

“We are not aware of council nominating Warri Gate Road for funding under TIDS [Transport Infrastructure Development Scheme], however would fully endorse such a request,” they said in a statement.

– ABC / Craig Fitzsimmons

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