By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Outback Highway Development Council says the election commitment of $11m a year for three years from the Coalition would bring the $512m project on track for the start of full sealing in 2016/17, according general manager Helen Lewis.
The new funds would allow the road to stay open all year, take out corrugations and lift it from where it is currently below ground.
The increased traffic will help to further assess the case for the sealing, demonstrating the route’s value for mining, the cattle industry, communities along the way and tourism, plus its role as a feeder route to the Ghan north-south railway.
At the moment Queensland spends around $1m a year, and WA and NT Government, $2m each, on maintenance. Road construction in WA and Queensland is a joint state and local government function, in the NT it belongs to the Territory Government.
The Howard government, defeated in 2007, had contributed $10m over three years, matched by WA, Queensland and the NT, so that a total of $40m was available for that three year period.
The road, dubbed the country’s “longest shortcut,” links Winton in Queensland with Laverton in WA, via Alice Springs.
Ms Lewis says the current worst sections are in the NT – the Plenty Highway and the Docker River Road – and it’s likely that much of the promised new funding will be spent there.
Ms Lewis says 1700 kilometres is unsealed. She says the shires in WA and Queensland can build and seal a road at the cost of $250,000 per kilometer. In the NT the cost is $500,000.
UPDATE 1:30 pm
Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan, who is the deputy chair of the Outback Highway Development Council, says the huge difference in construction cost could be an argument in favour of re-introducing road construction into local government works departments.
He says in his youth, governments were building roads in the Territory, but this has now been handed over to private contractors.
Mayor Ryan says shire and council road gangs could be an important source of employment while the tax- and ratepayer would save money.