Mayor Ron Bellingham and Warwick Chamber of Commerce president David Littleproud with Federal Shadow Transport Minister Warren Truss.
Mayor Ron Bellingham and Warwick Chamber of Commerce president David Littleproud with Federal Shadow Transport Minister Warren Truss.

Gap tunnel not the way: Truss

CONTINUING with repair works may be the best permanent solution for Cunningham’s Gap says Federal Shadow Transport Minister Warren Truss.

Mr Truss said a long-term solution was imperative and “often the best solution” was to build on existing routes.

“The nature of the soil (at The Gap) will inevitably result in landslips and the foundation of the roads being saturated and it’s difficult to guarantee it won’t happen again,” he told the Daily News when in town yesterday.

“Looking into and creating new routes usually costs about $1 billion to build. It would take a large amount of road funding by the Commonwealth.”

Mr Truss said the tunnel alternative was likely to be even more costly and would not guarantee immunity from the elements.

“We know how much the (tunnels built) in Brisbane cost. It wouldn’t be any cheaper in the country,” he said.

“Also, tunnels are not immune to heavy rain. They’re not necessarily a guarantee against (landslips).

“But if you’re doing a scope of the alternatives, you’d look at all options before you decide.”

Mr Truss also pointed out tunnels were a more restrictive option if the need for road widening or lane adding occurred down the track.

All road funding has already been allocated under the Federal Government’s Nation Building Program until 2015 and Mr Truss said there was limited possibility a project would be given a green light before then.

“The only way we could get it before 2015 is if the government holds something else or if more money is found,” he said.

“But with Labor’s budget deficiencies I doubt they would spend more money on roads.”

Mr Truss, along with Federal Member for Maranoa Bruce Scott and Member for Southern Downs Lawrence Springborg, visited the Rose City yesterday to discuss the future of the Gap and the Eight Mile intersection.

They were met by Warwick Chamber of Commerce president David Littleproud and Southern Downs Mayor Ron Bellingham, who were seeking a federal funding commitment for a study of Cunningham’s Gap.

Mr Scott, who said he has “had Cunningham’s Gap on his radar for a long time”, was more optimistic about funding a solution for The Gap.

“Whilst many projects have been locked in until 2015, I take the view you can bring funding forward if circumstances change,” he said.

“A classic example is St Mary’s crossing here in Warwick. While planning is in place you can bring additional funds forward.”

Mr Scott said planning needed to start for the future “not for the cycle of government”.

“We need to develop plans for the potential of Spicer’s Gap to be an additional corridor to the Great Dividing Range,” he said.

“This region has over 1000 trucks a day pass through and the traffic is only going to grow and we need to meet with that challenge and plan for it.”

Discussion was then directed to the Eight Mile intersection, where Mayor Ron Bellingham was quick to point out the dangers of the adjoining highways to Mr Truss.

“Warren admitted he knew this intersection was problematic but I don’t think he fully understood the danger of it,” Cr Bellingham said.

The mayor said the most frustrating part about the intersection was having a design for an overpass already tabled.

“The design was already done, it was just a matter of commitment of funding,” Cr Bellingham said.

“Warren certainly understood our disappointment that it wasn’t done at the time, because obviously it would be a much greater cost now.”

As the group observed the passing traffic yesterday, a policeman pulled off before the Eight Mile and settled down to catch unlawful drivers going through the intersection.

During their half hour visit, at least four drivers were nabbed for either speeding or failing to stop at the junction.

Mr Truss said he supported making the intersection safer and said it was a tragedy there had been another death since the $4 million upgrades in 2009.

“I support the idea that better signage in the closer future would help,” he said.

“This is an unusual intersection and any driver not regularly using it would be confused.

“An overpass of course is a bigger thing (than signage) and the design has been done which is a big advantage.”

Mr Littleproud said he was encouraged with the response from Mr Truss and Mr Scott.

“Warren Truss has given us a commitment that if and when they form a government that he’d provide funding for a study,” Mr Littleproud said.

“While we encourage that and we’re grateful for it, we made the point that the current circumstances in Canberra actually provide an opportunity for sooner rather than waiting two years.

“It means we’ve got a backstop – we’re looking at (possible funding for a study) when they get to power, but first they’re going to use the current political situation to their advantage.”

Meanwhile works at Cunningham’s Gap continue, where the new focus continues at the 11th damage site, 600m east of the helipad at what is locally-known as Fruit Salad Corner, discovered this week.

A Transport and Main Roads (TMR) spokeswoman said it was not known whether the new work would come under the $40 million repair budget.

“Until the extent of the damage is known, TMR may be able to accommodate the works within the $40 million allocated to the restoration program,” she said.

“If the repair works require extensive excavation and slope stabilisation, we will consider any plans and resourcing necessary.

“At the site there are early signs of pavement damage, including minor cracks in the road surface.”

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