Friday 29 February 2008

Kuranda Highway won't happen

CairnsBlog contributer and Tablelands Regional Council candidate for Division 8, Syd Walker says the Kuranda Range 4-lane highway proposal a 'Dead Duck'

He calls on business people and environmentalists to join forces over modern rail network.

As an environmentalist, I've long opposed the proposal for a 4-lane highway between Smithfield and Kuranda.

The debate has often been portrayed in simplistic terms as a conflict between ‘progress’ and ‘the environment’. We must move beyond this fruitless dichotomy.

I believe the 4-Lane Highway (aka Kuranda Range Upgrade) will never be built, mainly because at this time in history no responsible government will spend a billion dollars or more on 7 km of transport infrastructure that will lock future generations into car dependency, not when the opposition will be loud, strong and intellectually irrefutable opposition," he says. There are better alternatives.

The Kuranda Range 4-Lane Highway Proposal was the intellectual product of an era when oil prices were predicted to remain under $50 per barrel and there was no real commitment to meeting stringent greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Times – and minds - have changed.

The only kind of development we can afford from now on – environmentally and economically – is sustainable development. Any other kind, by definition, leaves future generations with additional burdens to bear. We simply can’t afford to get our infrastructure wrong anymore on a large scale.

I believe Kevin Rudd, Peter Garrett, Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong won’t risk a long battle with the national environment movement over a project they'll learn - when fully briefed - is indefensible. Nor, I believe, will Anna Bligh or her more forward-looking Ministers. These are modern, intelligent politicians with the smarts to spot a dead duck. The Kuranda Range 4-Lane Highway proposal is a dead duck.

Syd Walker talks about the Kuranda Range Road
(Channel 7 - Tuesday 26th February)

What may attract funding from Federal / State Governments in the foreseeable future is a new, state of the art rail connection between the Cairns coastal plain and the Tablelands. Kuranda and Mareeba are already linked to Cairns via a historic but antiquated and woefully under-utilized railway line. Kuranda and Mareeba are the nearest highland village and town to Cairns. It makes sense to connect Cairns and the tablelands via Kuranda and Mareeba.

If the Chambers of Commerce of Cairns, Mareeba and Kuranda get behind modern rail, this part of the Tablelands could be joined to Cairns by a low-emissions, energy-efficient, comfortable, fast, affordable and frequent rail service.

That would provide a suitable transport backbone for future population growth on the tablelands, if there is to be growth. Whether there can and should be future population growth should be largely dependent, in my opinion, on whether we are smart enough to move quickly to a sustainable way of life. Sustainable transportation is a key part of the equation.
Transport is at the heart of a region’s economy.

FNQ can’t afford to miss out on the new opportunities created by a change of Government in Canberra and a new bipartisan consensus for serious action on greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The opportunity may be forthcoming for funding of cutting edge transport solutions that fulfill several key government objectives at once. These include switching to a low-emissions and low-energy usage way of life, moving to a nodal, medium density settlement pattern (best-serviced by rail transport) and protection of the Wet Tropics World Heritage values.

From a local perspective, modern rail would revitalize Kuranda and Mareeba – and connect small settlements in between such as Mantaka, Kowrowa, Koah, Bilwon and northern Mareeba. Commuting between Mareeba and Cairns would at last become safe and pleasant.

Modern rail would bring Kuranda many more visitations throughout the day and evening, both from locals and tourists. These would be visitors with time to spare in the village and money to spend in cafes and restaurants, pubs and entertainment, stalls and shops. It would help bring life – and a wider range of business opportunities – back into Kuranda, It would also distribute the economic benefits of high visitation numbers more broadly throughout the business community.

Clinging on to advocacy of the Kuranda Range 4-Lane Highway proposal is a loser for this region’s economy. I call on business people and their representative organizations to reconsider the best and most feasible transport infrastructure for this region, thinking laterally as well as long-term.

Better dialogue is overdue between this region’s business and environmental community. I believe there is a lot of unexplored common ground which could lead to rapid, innovative and very beneficial solutions for the entire community.

Some months ago I phoned Jeremy Blockey, currently President of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, to suggest dialogue over the best long-term transport infrastructure for the region. He kindly took the time to listen and discuss the issues in brief. We agreed to maintain dialogue. I hope we shall.

Svargo Freitag - a successful Koah businessman - has long opposed the 4-Lane Highway and has made interesting contributions to debate over alternatives. I'm sure there are other people in commerce with a passion for making this region a leader in sustainable development. If so, bringing modern rail to the tablelands in an environmentally smart way is a great project for co-operative effort.

I welcome contact from anyone in this region’s business community who’s keen to put substance into the ideal of truly sustainable development in FNQ – especially (but not only) in relation to transport infrastructure.

Environmentalists and business folk in this region have a historic responsibility to stop bickering over projects that aren’t likely to happen anyway - partly because we disagree so strongly about them – and start working together to find common ground.

Exciting and highly beneficial infrastructure projects have every chance of happening if we work together for truly sustainable development. That would be real ‘progress’.

You can read more on this from Syd Walker:


Anonymous said...

real progress would be a road system that would let us jump in our cars and drive to Kuranda without huge delay and personal safety risks.

What a huge long waffle that was! BOOOORING!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Syd on this one. There is a network or railway lines running right through the Cairns and Tablelands district.
I have commented before that if we utilised this railway network and put a public commuter train on the network, it would be a lot cheaper than spending billions of dollars on a road network.
Apart from the financial cost, having a railway network to service Kuranda and the Tablelands, as well as the northern beaches, as far as Port Douglas or even to Cape Tribulation, there would be a saving on the environment. These roads up here are among the most dangerous in the country. (Captain Cook Highway, Kuranda Range, Rex Range.) Apart from the finincial and environment savings, there would be a saving on human life, Insurance claims and the wildlife. It would be a win win situation for all. There could also be a saving on the frieght system as at least some of the frieght that goes to these areas could be sent by rail to keep some of the semi-trailers off the highway.How many times has the Kuranda range been closed due to a truck or car accident. There was another truck accident of the Captain Cook Highway just the other day.
If we could even get 10% of the current traffic and freight off the roads, and onto a train, just think of the savings.

Anonymous said...

Christ, who would want to drive to Kuranda once a super highway opens it up and a mini Gold Coast springs up around a patch of lawyer cane and one straggly cascara tree representing "the World Heritage Rainforest"?

Anonymous said...

Roads are great if you are capable of driving and have a car.
I work in a specialist medical
practice and have Tablelands patients coming for regular(sometimes daily) consults.
They rely on family, friends and neighbours to drive them to Cairns and they all complain about parking in the CBD.
A train would help both the problems of having to rely on others and parking in the CBD.

It's not like Syd is trying to do something new here. We don't have to create this, it already exsists.
We had this service years ago before car ownership become the norm. The tracks are already there.

If you are a greenie that wants to reduce your carbon foot print, an independent oldie or just plain too broke to run a car do something to get this public transport service running again.
If you have a car and love to drive the range, think about the benefits of having less cars and trucks in your way.
Everyone wins, even the environment.