Alternative Options

What are the possible alternatives to a 4-lane highway from Smithfield to Kuranda?

1) 4-Lane Road Tunnel
2) Limited Upgrade
3) Using the Palmerston Highway
4) Rail Tunnel to Mareeba
5) A combination of the above

1) 4-Lane Road Tunnel

This was the only option to be considered as a possible alternative in the 2000 Transport study after all others were rejected.

It was costed at about 750 million dollars and discarded for two main reasons:

Dangerous goods would have to go through the tunnel by themselves (closing the tunnel to all other cars or trucks for that time).

And ventilation was deemed to be too expensive to maintain.

2) Limited Upgrade

This option was ruled out from the beginning because it was assumed that no improvement in connectivity would be achieved and many incremental small upgrades would make the impact on World Heritage values a lot worse than building a 4-Lae Highway.

We disagree with this assessment.

First and foremost it is misleading and wrong to assume that any limited upgrade could not provide any connectivity improvements. This is simply a design issue. If well placed and designed a few additional overtaking opportunities can vastly improve connectivity, we believe that most of the connectivity gains possible with the 4-Lane Highway can be achieved with a limited upgrade option.

Furthermore we believe that this option would be much cheaper and can be realised much sooner and without many of the significant negative impacts of the 4-Lane Highway.

This option should be seriously investigated as to its cost/benefit.

3) Using the Palmerston Highway

The Palmerston Highway can already be used by B-doubles (the initial reason for "upgrading" the Kuranda Range Road). However the roads from the Palmerston to Mareeba are fairly poor.

Upgrading those roads would allow B-doubles from Mareeba and north easy access to the coast and the deepwater port of Mourilyan (without having to go through Cairns city). This option would also encourage more development in the Innisfail area and on the southern tablelands (which could do with economic improvement more than the Kuranda area).

4) Rail Tunnel to Mareeba

Rail tunnels have been looked at and discarded in the 2000 Transport Study because of their high construction costs, the need for ventilation and because trucks would still have to use the range road.

The costs for a rail tunnel seem to have been over estimated. In the 2000 Transport study the currently favoured 4-Lane Highway option is estimated at 249 million dollars (now the budget is close to 600 million) while rail tunnel options were costed at about a billion dollars.

We have found a very similar system in Switzerland with a longer tunnel which was built for about 750 million (in today's dollars) so above pricing seems to be excessive.

The need for ventilation seems to be based on conventional locomotives. We suggest using electric locomotives employing regenerative breaking which would eliminate the need for ventilation and significantly reduce running costs by feeding electricity into the grid on the downhill run.

We also suggest the use of drive on/off carriages which allow trucks and even B-doubles to use the train. This would free the Range Road from those trucks and make it a wonderful drive experience again.

This option could shift more freight and people and has numerous advantages over the 4-Lane Highway; the most important one is to provide a reliable evacuation route from Cairns.

Please read more about it here.

5) A combination of the above

It seems that the best option is a combination of the above alternatives.

First and foremost we need more overtaking opportunities on the range road. Especially on the way down, after Main Roads removed the longest overtaking opportunity, heavy trucks force everyone else to travel at their slow speed. Some of those trucks are kind enough to pull over onto the side strip, using it as a de-facto slow vehicle lane.

This situation can easily be remedied by making that long stretch just above the hairline bend four lanes. This would not take much money, could be completed within a year and would make a huge difference. Another easy improvement would be to change line markings so traffic is directed into slow vehicle lanes instead of into the overtaking lanes and signs encouraging drivers to let others pass them. There are also several other spots where extra overtaking opportunities can easily created or existing ones extended.

Next wildlife underpasses should be planned for the three main wildlife corridors. If well designed they can provide additional overtaking opportunities. These can be planned and built in 2-5 years significantly improving wildlife connectivity and traffic conditions. They should cost only a fraction of the cost of the 4-Lane Highway but can provide most of the benefits much sooner.

If feasible, the Palmerston to Mareeba road can be built or upgraded and provide easy coastal access for B-doubles much sooner than the 4-lane highway would.

In the meantime the Cairns/Mareeba rail tunnel can be investigated and designed. If we really need a major transport link it seems to be a much better long term option than the 4-Lane Highway.

We need to at least seriously consider these options before spending half to one billion dollars on a road most people won't be able to use because petrol is likely to cost $5-10.- per litre before it is even finished.