State's worst link a priority
IT IS the lifeline of the Sunshine State.
The blue-grey path connects the coastal regions to the capital, the resource industry to export points and keeps Queenslanders in touch.
As much as the Bruce Hwy serves, it also takes away with neglected stretches, dangerous black spots and consequent tragic crashes.
The 78-year-old highway, which accounts for 40 million vehicle trips annually, claimed 204 lives between 2006 and 2009, with the Mackay to Sarina stretch identified by the RACQ this year as the worst link in Queensland.
The state's peak motoring body estimates 350 more lives will be lost on the Bruce Hwy over the next decade.
This is a sobering figure for most but weighs especially heavily on the shoulders of the state's new Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson.
Mr Emerson's path to politics was formed long before he won the inner-city Brisbane seat of Indooroopilly for the LNP in 2009.
The father of two and husband saw the ins and outs of Queensland politics during a long and well-accomplished career in journalism, which included stints at the ABC and the Australian.
In what he describes as an obvious progression, Mr Emerson went from heading a community action group to becoming an MP to finding his niche with the transport portfolio.
Despite presiding over a multi-industry portfolio that once required the handling of two ministers, Mr Emerson placed fixing the 1700km Bruce Hwy at the forefront of his priorities.
The LNP has committed $1 billion over 10 years to the highway upgrade - on top of the more than $100 million a year already contributed - on the basis that the Federal Government steps up its contribution to the national road.
The government last week established the Bruce Hwy Crisis Management Group comprising federal, state and local representatives who will create a running sheet for the highway upgrade over 10 years.
While Mr Emerson would not be drawn on identifying priority areas, flood-prone spots could expect action sooner than later.
"The Bruce Hwy is a lifeline," he said.
"We are looking to keep it open in challenging circumstances.
"What we saw during the floods and (Cyclone) Yasi was the highway shut off for days and days.
A technical advisory committee, set up in conjunction with the highway crisis group, will visit regional Queensland over the next six months to gauge where the biggest highway problems are.
That roadmap will set the pace and direction for highway construction for the next decade. In the meantime, work will continue on the horror stretch between Cooroy and Curra.
Sixteen overtaking lanes between Sarina and Bowen should be built by June, 2014, and a $37.8 million Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements package for Mackay and the Whitsundays is currently in tender review before works commence in June, 2012.
But those communities untouched by the federal and state infrastructure kitty will have to wait for the crisis management group report in six months to see when their part of the lifeline will be mended.
How to negotiate the Bruce Hwy safely:
- Though it is possible to do it in two days, plan to take three to do the entire stretch, even if you are travelling only to Cairns (it helps not to have a deadline that is too tight)
- Be patient, caravanners are people too
- Do not drive tired: take regular breaks every 3-4 hours
- Concentrate, errors can be unforgiving
TAKING THE HIGH ROAD
The Bruce Hwy accounted for:
- 59% of road deaths (175) on the state's main roads, 2003-07
- 51% of road crashes involving at least one injury (2725)
The deadliest section, 2003-07, 40km between Cooroy and Gympie:
- Carried about 13,800 vehicles a day
- 172 crashes involving at least one injury
- 25 deaths
- From the RACQ report, How Safe are Queensland's Roads? Released in December, 2010