Labor questions road upgrades

29 Nov, 2013 01:00 AM
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Member for Agriculture Region Darren West (left) and Shadow Transport Minister Ken Travers inspecting Wheatbelt roads.
The issue has turned to road safety with more trucks already on regional and rural roads
Member for Agriculture Region Darren West (left) and Shadow Transport Minister Ken Travers inspecting Wheatbelt roads.

THE Tier 3 rail line debate continued in parliament last week with Shadow Transport Minister Ken Travers condemning the State Government for failing to upgrade key Wheatbelt roads.

With two Tier 3 rail lines - Quairading to York and Trayning to Merredin - closed on October 31, the issue has turned to road safety with more trucks already on regional and rural roads in those areas.

Mr Travers recently travelled through the Wheatbelt with Member for Agriculture Region Darren West to see for themselves the state of some of the roads.

Mr Travers said it was clear there was a failure to upgrade the roads in time for the rail closures and that had put lives at risk.

"It was a flawed decision to close the rail lines, but the implementation of the policy has been botched and is now a looming disaster," Mr Travers said.

"In 2010, the Barnett Government promised to upgrade Wheatbelt roads, including the Cunderdin-Quairading Road.

"On a recent trip to the Wheatbelt it became evident that the upgrades had not yet been completed and previous work had already deteriorated because the State Government failed to provide sufficient funds to do the work properly."

Mr Travers said the State Government had claimed that almost 200,000 tonnes of grain at the Quairading bins would be transferred by road to Cunderdin and then taken by train to the Kwinana Grain Terminal.

"This cannot happen as the Cunderdin-Quairading Road has not been sufficiently upgraded," he said.

"Many sections of this road have not been widened and dangerous curves remain in place.

"A load limit of six tonnes has been recommended for a severely damaged culvert on this road to protect the safety of road users.

"If this limit is implemented, which is likely, grain trucks will not be able to use this road.

"This will mean the Quairading bin, along with the Mawson and Greenhills bins, will now be trucked along the Quairading-York Road and then most likely travel along Great Eastern Highway in Mundaring to Forrestfield or Kwinana."

Mr Travers said many farmers had expressed concerns that lives could be lost as a result of this decision.

"Many sections of the roads that should have been completely rebuilt, have simply been subjected to sub-standard widening works," he said.

"Local ratepayers will be picking up the tab for this short-changing over the years to come.

"Despite their election promise to keep Tier 3 lines open, the Barnett Government has done nothing to save the lines and now they are completely failing to implement their own policy."

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Troy Buswell said the State Government, together with the Commonwealth, had committed $352 million over four years to upgrade road and rail infrastructure throughout the Wheatbelt.

"This is an unprecedented investment and will help deliver a safer grain freight network to the region," the spokesperson said.

"As part of this commitment, $118m has been invested in upgrading roads used to transport grain.

"About 80pc of these works have been delivered and work is continuing.

"Apart from the $118m specific grain package, all local government authorities have access to grants under the State Road Funds to Local Government Agreement, which will provide a record $172m in 2013/14.

"Main Roads WA constantly monitors the condition of the WA State roads to ensure they are up to standard."

Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance president and Narembeen grower Bill Cowan agreed with Mr Travers' comments and said if Tier 3 lines were to close, the risk of accidents would increase.

"Ken Travers is correct, the work (to upgrade roads) hasn't been done and is not going to be done in time so there are going to be vehicles operating on roads that are unfit for purpose," Mr Cowan said.

"This year it is going to be very difficult."

Mr Cowan said the biggest thing was that Quairading was probably going to have one of the largest grain seasons on record.

"It is going to have to be shifted this harvest because I think the capacity of the bin may fill up," he said.

"Originally when the State Government commissioned that report and decided to close the Tier 3 route, it was decided that grain would be transported to Cunderdin, but that isn't a good route because there is a poor bridge on the road and it also passes a school, hospital and aged care facility.

"There is a lot against taking it by road that way."

Mr Cowan said Tier 3 lines could be fixed quicker and cheaper than roads, transport costs would be cheaper for farmers and rail was a more environmentally friendly alternative to road.

"The State Government has obstinately stuck by their original plan which they made huge mistakes and miscalculations on," he said.

"And even though they are proven wrong time and time again they continue to go on with it.

"They have gone for the bad option and haven't got the courage to admit they might have been wrong."

"I think it is a losing face issue and they don't want to do a backflip."

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