Driving Forrest Forward

A 20 Year transport vision for South West Roads Rail and Port

Introduction

The south west of Western Australia is the jewel in the crown of the State’s economic and cultural development. It is also an environmental icon, being listed as one of the world’s international biodiversity hotspots.

The seat of Forrest occupies around 21,000 square kilometres in the very heart of the south west, and the Member for Forrest plays a key role in the development of the region.

The industries listed by the Australian Electoral Commission as being major contributors to the area include “Agriculture (beef and dairy cattle, sheep, fruit and vegetables, wine, flowers), forestry (hard and softwoods, wood chipping), mining (coal, mineral sands, tin and tantalite), fisheries, manufacturing, commerce and tourism.”

The south west region is the tourism and holiday destination of choice for the majority of people from the Perth metropolitan area.

This wide range of activity coupled with the significant population growth of the region (2.1% per annum compared to the State’s 1.8% and the Nation’s 1.4%) has put significant pressure on the transport infrastructure of the region. Planning for and investment in road infrastructure has not kept pace with growth or demand in the South West, and this has been a long term trend.

There has been considerable investment in roads leading to the South West, as evidenced by the opening of the Perth to Bunbury Highway in October 2009 and the extension of dual lanes on the Old Coast Road by the Court Government in the nineties.

It must be noted however that while these important assets have improved travel between the South West and Perth, the outcome is that even more traffic is entering the South West, putting even more pressure on local roads.

There is a desperate need for a long term vision for road transport for the south west. Presented in this paper is my twenty year vision for road transport in the area. I hope this stimulates debate, engages the community, and can be used as a basis for a blueprint the community can adopt into the future.

Main Roads in the South West

The completion of the Perth to Bunbury Highway is the first step in meeting the road needs of the area. There is now dual lane access from Bunbury north to Perth and beyond.

The construction of the Bunbury Bypass and Port Access Road is underway, with some sections now completed. This has moved the traffic bottleneck on this service corridor from Mandurah to south of Bunbury, and has highlighted the inadequate arterial roads that radiate traffic out from Bunbury.

These roads are the Bussell Highway to Augusta, the Vasse Highway to Nannup and Pemberton, the South West Highway to north to Yarloop and south to Manjimup, and the Coalfields Highway through Collie east to Arthur River.

These four roads are the key arteries that drive the economic lifeblood of the south west, and all have sections that are inadequate for the current traffic demand. This situation will only worsen over time.

The Bunbury ring road, the port access road and the Preston river realignment.

The Bunbury Outer Ring Road (BORR) and Port Access Road are being delivered.

I attended the opening of stage 1 of the Port Access Road in 2010.

Stage 2 of that road and stage 1 of the BORR has both state and federal funding (from both Liberal and Labor parties) committed. It will cost $170 million.

Work started on this stage of the project with a groundbreaking ceremony I attended in February 2012, and it is expected to be completed by mid 2013.

Stage 2 of the BORR is estimated to cost $260 million. As yet this money has not been committed by either Government. There are also EPBC Act issues with stage 2, and again the Liberals are keen to help. These issues may result in a change of course. When the course is decided and the business case finalised a federal Liberal Government would look at funding options.

There are issues relating to the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act that are holding things up. When he visited the electorate the Liberal Environmental spokesman Greg Hunt was briefed on the issue and is keen to assist. I will be working to ensure the funding of this vitally important project.

 

Bussell Highway

The Bussell Highway is the coastal route that runs from Bunbury to Augusta, servicing the major population centres of Capel, Busselton and Margaret River. It links these iconic tourist destinations to the world and is the freight corridor for wine, agriculture, forestry and manufacturing industries.

It contains sections of single lane and dual lane road. The section from Busselton to Margaret River can now be identified as the most inadequate and indeed dangerous single lane section, with high traffic loads and poor overtaking capacity.

My vision for transport in the long term includes dual lanes on this road all the way from Bunbury to Margaret River, with the possible long term extension of dual lanes to Augusta. I recognise that this represents significant additional investment in the region, but the time to start talking about it is now.

I want to see this project on the State and Commonwealth Governments’ long term plan.

South West Highway

The South West Highway connects the hinterland regions of Boyanup, Donnybrook-Balingup, Bridgetown and Manjimup with the regional centre of Bunbury and is also a conduit from those communities to Perth. It transports their products to markets, and provides the tourists that are so essential to those regional economies.

It is also the alternative northern route to Perth from the South West, running through the rural hinterland areas of Brunswick Junction and Harvey. The South West Highway has long been recognised as needing significant upgrades.

Additional overtaking lanes will be needed, especially with the closing of the Greenbushes to Bunbury railway line under the previous state Labor Government which forced extra logs onto road transport.

The growth of the region, both in population and industrial terms, continues to put additional pressure on this vital piece of road infrastructure. The safety of road users should not be compromised, whether they are truck drivers, commuters, or children on school buses.

My vision for this highway is the provision of twelve additional overtaking lanes (four from Yarloop to Waterloo, two from Waterloo to Picton, and six from Bunbury to Manjimup). This represents the bare minimum of upgrades needed on this road.

Vasse Highway

The Vasse Highway services the timber and agricultural region of Nannup, and is a significant tourist route to Nannup and Pemberton.

It is a single lane highway, and although its usage is below the other main roads in this list, the region will grow and develop as a tourist destination over the next decade.

Road pressure on the Vasse Highway and the Bussell Highway has been eased by having good connective roads including Sue’s Road and Mowen Road in the Shires of Busselton and Augusta-Margaret River. My vision for the Vasse Highway is to upgrade sections, including that at Yeagarup.

Coalfields Highway

The Coalfields Highway services the major industrial centre of Collie, with its focus on power generation, coal and aluminium. At workers shift change times the road usage on this highway is extremely high, and the road requires significant upgrades and the installation of additional overtaking lanes. The Coalfields Highway was identified in the 1990’s by the then Court State Liberal Government as a road that needed improvement.

They developed a $40 million program to upgrade the highway in two halves, and the first from the Roelands turn to the Wellington Weir turnoff was completed in their second term around the year 2000.

However in 2001 the incoming Labor Government dumped the second half of this project and rejected Main Road’s repeated requests over many years for the second $20 million for the second half of this project. With the election of another Liberal Government there has been a further commitment of funding for the Coalfields Highway.

As the result of the incredibly tragic road deaths of recent months, Main Roads WA has fast tracked a new review of the Highway to advise the Government on the adequacy of the proposed upgrade.

This review should indicate if the proposed upgrades are adequate, or if more needs to be done.

To complete the original upgrade plans for the Coalfields Highway will obviously now cost more than the original $20 million, and I will be working with my State colleagues in the Liberal Government and the Federal Government to try to get the funding to do the job.

It is also obvious that the current budget for the Coalfields Highway will not be the last spent on that road.

We all need to remain mindful of the level of traffic, especially truck and commercial traffic that travels up the highway. The development of additional industry in the Collie area, including the underutilised Shotts Industrial Estate will rely on have adequate and appropriate transport infrastructure.

Both the road and rail systems will require additional capacity if the region is going to grow to its full potential.

My short term vision for the Coalfields Highway is to upgrade the highway from the Wellington Weir turn off to Collie, and provide three additional overtaking lanes between Roelands and Collie. If traffic levels on the highway continue to grow, this highway will need to be upgraded to dual lanes through to Shotts Industrial estate east of Collie in the long term.

This is my long term vision for this road.

Port of Bunbury

The Port of Bunbury is central to the economic growth and development of the South West region. The major products moving out through the port are alumina, woodchips and mineral sands.

There port does not currently have a container handling facility, despite calls for the development for this capacity for many years.

There appears to be adequate cargo with the South West region as its origin or destination to allow for the development of container handling facilities, however the port suffers from competition with the Perth based Fremantle-Kwinana Port. The Port of Bunbury needs to expand to handle containers, and I will be working to facilitate this.

In 2005 the State Labor Government announced they would build a new gas fired power station in Kwinana instead of a coal fired one in Collie. To compensate they committed $60 million for the Port of Bunbury for a dedicated coal berth to assist coal exports. THE LABOR PARTY SUBSEQUENTLY DROPPED THIS FUNDING – THE MONEY DISAPPEARED!

In 2010, when Griffin Coal administrators are saying they must export coal, a coal berth would have been a major contributor to the viability of that company.

Funding

The Commonwealth Government’s Nation Building program or Auslink program do not include highways south of Bunbury.

This must change, to allow Federal Funding to flow towards the upgrading of these major highways.

I will be working towards having the major arterial roads south and east of Bunbury recognised by the Federal Government as roads of national significance.

My vision is that all levels of Government would contribute to the road infrastructure of the South West. Only then will the region grow and develop to its full potential.

Rail

The rail system in the South West has been under significant pressure, particularly in freight transport.

The Collie-Brunswick Junction-Bunbury Port triangle is the key hub of freight in the region and has long been recognised as having capacity constraints. This is highlighted in the submission by the WA State Government to Infrastructure Australia for funding to duplicate the line in that area to increase capacity.

Additional expansion will be required on the Collie to Brunswick Junction line, especially with expansion of the Worsley Alumina facility.

The Brunswick Junction to Picton part of the rail line has been identified as the principal bottleneck, and recent estimates put the cost of the required rail expansion here at around $63 million.

I will be working to attract the necessary funding to get this expansion on track.

Disused Rail Lines south of Bunbury Disused lines still exist south of Bunbury, running from Picton to Busselton and Picton to Northcliffe (including a side line from Donnybrook to Boyup Brook). A rail reserve still exists from Busselton to Nannup.

These lines represent a potential asset should freight that could use them be developed.

The Greenbushes to Bunbury rail line was a part of the social and transport fabric of the South West for generations, until its closure some five years ago.

It was closed because only a limited amount of woodchips were being moved on it, and it was more efficient and cheaper to transport those woodchips by road in trucks. During the 2008 WA State election the Labor Party told the community that a “deal had been done and the line was saved”. What they didn’t tell anyone however – their lie of omission – was that no contract had been agreed to or signed.

This deception was needed because in reality the woodchip producers had agreed “in principle” to transport their product on rail ONLY if the price of rail was equivalent to the cost of using trucks on the road.

This proviso was going to cost someone between $500,000 and $1 million annually as a subsidy. Industry had no intention of paying it; neither did the Labor Government.

In order for woodchip trains to run on the Greenbushes line all of the following needs to happen:

1. Either the Government or woodchip industry has to provide the additional half to one million dollars every year to match the road costs.

2. The woodchip industry has to from a new trading entity to operate the proposed intermodal facility in Greenbushes.

3. The land the facility would be on in Greenbushes has to be realigned, potentially rezoned, and purchased.

4. The line has to upgraded, the port also upgraded, and the inter-modal facility constructed within the proposed Labor $20 million budget. This is unlikely, given the recent more accurate estimate of $47 million for the project by the South West Development Commission.

So where does that leave this project? This rail line may well only run again if it transports alumina or bauxite from deposits around Manjimup, if they prove viable and an industry develops. If it relies on woodchips the $20 million budget will have to be expanded, probably to over $47 million, including a subsidy for running costs of up to a million dollars a year.

Summary

This document identifies aspirational twenty year goals for transport in the south west, including:

1. Extending the National Building (Auslink) program to include road and rail transport south of Bunbury, specifically to assets identified in this document.

2. Finishing the Bunbury ring road, the Port Access Road and the Preston River realignment.

3. Upgrading of the South West Highway including the provision of twelve additional overtaking lanes (four from Yarloop to Waterloo, two from Waterloo to Picton, and six from Bunbury to Manjimup).

4. Upgrading of the Coalfields Highway from the Wellington Weir turn off to Collie, and the provision of three additional overtaking lanes between Roelands and Collie.

5. Upgrading of the Bussell Highway to dual lanes from Bunbury to Margaret River.

6. Expanding the capacity of the Collie-Brunswick Junction-Port of Bunbury rail network.

7. Upgrading the Vasse Highway, with particular focus on the Yeagarup section. 8. Using the disused rail lines south of Bunbury to expand freight capacity when it becomes feasible.

Nola Marino MHR Member for Forrest