By ERWIN CHLANDA
The council of Queensland’s Boulia Shire – population about 600 – has its eye on the contract for sealing the Plenty Highway in the Northern Territory between the border and the Stuart Highway.
The Mayor, pastoralist Rick Britton, says the project has two goals: To secure “long term employment” for the crew of the council’s now well established road building section, and for Boulia to reap the benefits from the tourism boom that will follow the completion of the Outback Way.
The Plenty Highway, roughly 500 kilometres long and mostly dirt at the moment, is part of this first major east-west road link through the centre of the nation.
Will tiny Boulia get a guernsey against the big boys in road construction?
Mayor Britton (pictured) likes his chances. He says his council is sealing roads, including the preparatory earthworks, for “well under $300,000 a kilometer”.
The going rate in the Territory is up to $800,000 a kilometer, a whopping three times Boulia’s figure.
The Territory Government, which is managing the project in the NT, has made it clear that interstate contractors are eligible to apply: “As the tender process will be a public tender, industry players from any jurisdiction can submit tenders [which are] evaluated on a value for money basis where factors including price, local development, capacity and past performance are considered.
“Contractors must also have NT CAL accreditation,” says the Department of Infrastructure.
“If savings are achieved on this project, further upgrades of the Outback Way will be undertaken.”
Mayor Britton says the council crew is used to working in remote areas: “Distance is no problem.”
He’s clearly not a stranger to hard work himself. He invited the Alice Springs News Online to call him for comment either before 5am or after 7.30pm.
Like most pastoralists in Western Queensland he is battling a two-year drought.
Mayor Britton says the road crews stay in camps that are moved along as seal progresses, and they work nine day fortnights.
Some work is “subbied out” but most is done with council owned machinery and by its crew.
At present the council is sealing sections of the Donohue Highway on the Queensland side of the Outback Way.
Mayor Britton says some 80 kilometres have either been completed recently or work is in progress.
The remaining 160 kilometres of gravel between Boulia and the border are kept “in very good condition,” he says.
The NT Department of Lands says the Plenty Highway project is currently in the design phase and is likely to be advertised in July.
In March, the Australian Government, Queensland Government and seven western Queensland councils signed a funding
agreement worth $24.5m to upgrade the Queensland section of the Outback Way.
The Australian Government has committed $33m nationally to its upgrade.
There is a joint Federal and Territory Government commitment of $40m.
The Australian Government says “funding contribution is released on achievement of agreed milestones, with an initial payment to be made based on completion of the planning and detailed design works”.
It seems little Boulia may be on track to setting a new benchmark for what the taxpayer has to cough up for building roads in the outback.
PHOTOS: From this (bogged stock roadtrain) to that (fully sealed road) … courtesy of Boulia Shire Council.
Sealing the Outback Way: The mouse that roars.
By ERWIN CHLANDA