By ERWIN CHLANDA
Why does road sealing cost twice as much in the Territory as it does in shires across the borders on either side?
“That’s the question that needs to be asked,” says Patrick Hill (at left), the president of the Laverton Shire and chairman of the Outback Highway Development Council Inc (OHDC) which held its annual general meeting in Alice Springs this week.
Both the Ngaanyatjarraku Shire in WA and the Boulia Shire in Queensland can build sealed roads for around $250,000 a kilometer while the cost in the Territory is $500,000 – a major concern for the group promoting the east-west highway running through Alice Springs.
Both shires have expressed interest in doing roadworks in the Territory, and Boulia Mayor Eric “Rick” Britton says negotiations with the NT government are beginning.
NT Infrastructure Minister Peter Styles says the higher costs in the NT “could be reflective of a number of reasons, availability of suitable pavement materials, haulage distance of pavement materials and water, differences in environment, availability of contractors for work in remote locations and differences in road upgrading standards”.
We drew Councillor Hill’s attention to the Austroads Guidelines, which the NT Government uses for its road building. He says all Australian jurisdictions pretty well use the same Australian standards.
Mr Styles says: “As the Northern Territory contracts out its road construction to private industry, the full cost of construction is captured in the Northern Territory construction rates.
“The full value of project overhead costs may not be fully captured in the Shire construction rates.”
Mr Britton says the Boulia Shire uses its own plant as well as local contractors who “live in the town, have invested in the town, are part of our rate base, sponsor events”.
He says the Boulia Shire’s cost of maintaining dirt roads is $1700 per kilometer.
The shires in WA and Queensland have convenient ways of obtaining gravel – an issue that has been delaying the upgrading of the Mereenie loop road from Alice Springs to King’s Canyon year after year, with the Central Land Council withholding permits for quarrying.
Both WA and Queensland have corridors of 10 kilometers either side of their roads from which ballast can be obtained.
Mr Britton says the Boulia Shire has Indigenous Land Use Agreements in place for gravel mining and the Aboriginal community is keen to have good roads. “They benefit all people,” he says.
OHDC Executive Officer Helen Lewis says the Ngaanyatjarra Land Council is “very supportive”. It operates in the area of WA across the border from Docker River.
The Abbott government is committed to a $33m expenditure over three years for the highway, and discussions are now under way for the two states and the NT to provide matching funding, says Ms Lewis.
She says WA is already spending more than matching funds, with an outlay of $4.5m in 2012/13 and $25m since 1998/99.
Sealing the worst spots is the present policy. Ms Lewis says to fully seal the 1700 kilometers between Boulia and Laverton will cost $512m, and the OHDC “will analyse social and economic advantages the $11m per year delivers, which will build their case to take to Canberra in 2017/18 to seal the road”.
The group dates back to a motion of support by Cr Hill carried at the national local government conferences in Canberra in 1995 and 1996. The OHDC was founded in 1997 and Cr Hill has been its chairman ever since.
UPDATE Nov 19 at 4:30pm
The NT Government has just released figures showing that road building in the NT is up to three times as expensive when compared with adjoining states.
The statement says: “At January 2012, published cost per kilometre for sealing roads in the Territory was estimated at between $500,000 and $700,000 per kilometre. This range is now estimated at approximately $600,000 to $800,000 per kilometre.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA