Industry Issues, Transport Features

How to settle the Hahndorf freight debate

Community members are developing a ring road plan responding to Hahndorf’s tourism growth from its origins as a peaceful German settlements while prioritising freight vehicles travelling through the region

The South Australian town of Hahndorf is globally known as a picturesque place. Its glittering trees sparkle in the early Autumn sun, welcoming visitors to the small Lutheran German town of about 3,000 inhabitants. The heritage listed stone and brick buildings lining Hahndorf’s main street play host to more than a million tourists each year taking in the blissful surrounds of the Adelaide Hills town still revelling in the past.

While these tourists rest their weary legs at the variety of cafes and restaurants on offer, perching themselves at tables outside to continue soaking up Hahndorf’s charm, a roaring noise disrupts it all. In no time, a prime mover is coming down the main street, travelling through the main street of the Adelaide Hills’ crown jewel in order to complete its run on time.

For Adelaide local Jeremy Roberts, the presence of trucks and thousands of vehicles going through Hahndorf has long drawn consternation from plenty of residents and visitors around the Adelaide Hills.

“Hahndorf is a very popular place, but what we have currently is a heritage town stewing in its own traffic, exhaust fumes and noise,” Roberts told ATN.

“For such a beautiful town, it has a dysfunctional main street, with no plans set in stone to build large carparks or a ring road around it to divert heavy vehicle traffic and other through traffic, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the total.”

Only 30 minutes away from Adelaide’s CBD, Hahndorf is at the centre of the Adelaide Hills tourism region – in a Tourism Research Australia study, 89 per cent of people holidaying in Adelaide are estimated to have stopped at Hahndorf. When it comes to tourism, Hahndorf and its surrounds account for more than 60 per cent of the Hills’ total revenue generation.

It’s also at the heart of a traffic bottleneck due to the vying demands of freight operations running through the region and tourism movements, as well as thousands of cars a day forced to go through the town to get to their destinations. For years, hire cars and tour buses have shared the roads through Hahndorf with prime movers that are looking to run through the Adelaide Hills and complete freight routes. A 2021 government-commissioned study said that 480 commercial vehicles, 90 per cent of which are heavy vehicles, pass through Hahndorf’s main street each day. It’s resulted in a peaceful destination being imposed on by trucks simply trying to fulfil their duties and serve Adelaide and its surrounds.

This conflict has raised the ire of locals for years, with the community advocating for traffic congestion solutions. Through petitions and other initiatives, the community has rallied to call for a bypass around Hahndorf for heavy vehicles to use, as well as thousands of commuters and commercial smaller vehicles.

 Image: adwo/stock.adobe.com

It finally came to a head in August last year when the South Australian government responded to calls for heavy vehicle traffic to be regulated through Hahndorf. From November 1 last year, heavy vehicles longer than 15m in length were banned from passing through the popular tourist town and instead forced to redirect around the main street to alternative routes around Hahndorf.

Now, signs reading ‘no trucks over 15m in length’ means all non-local semi-trailers, pig and dog trailers over 15 metres in length are now travelling on alternative routes such as River and Strathalbyn Roads, parts of which have been upgraded for this purpose. The state says the truck ban will stop 130 heavy vehicles moving through Hahndorf each day and will use a number of other roads to get to their destinations, not just River and Strathalbyn Roads.

“Logs and livestock on large semi-trailer trucks don’t belong on Hahndorf’s Main Street,” SA transport and infrastructure minister Tom Koutsantonis says.

Yet this isn’t the full solution that the Hahndorf community was after. Instead of banning heavy vehicles on the main street and forcing them to divert through surrounding roads, Adelaide Hills residents instead wanted a bypass created that wouldn’t result in major property acquisitions nor interfere with pedestrian safety in the region.

When the federal government dropped the proposed bypass project from its list following a review undertaken by federal transport minister Catherine King, residents like Roberts were left to rue another missed opportunity.

“The cancellation of the bypass shows an inadequate appreciation of the demands that Hahndorf is facing both today and into the future,” he says.

“It’s short-sighted and is inadequate infrastructure investment. While the large truck ban is a sign of movement, it’s a zero-dollar decision – it’s only a ban and some signs for Hahndorf.

“Instead, they’re having to spend several million dollars upgrading secondary roads in the region to make them safer for heavy vehicles, semi-trailers and truck and pig, or truck and dog, combinations.”

While Roberts says this safety investment is a welcome sign for the local region, he says the lack of investment in reducing noise and other safety concerns caused by the increasing heavy vehicle and through traffic in the area is “alarming”. He says the current truck ban and secondary road upgrades will provide a temporary relief, but the growing dual demands of freight and through traffic versus tourism traffic will continue to build.

The Hahndorf truck traffic issue may be a pressing one for local community members, but it isn’t raising the same alarms for the likes of the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA).

“While a small percentage of the local community thinks this is a big issue, we don’t view it as that,” SARTA executive director Steve Shearer told ATN.

“I’ve been to Hahndorf’s main street hundreds of times and I’ve never considered it unsafe. It’s more of an amenity issue than a safety one, as there’s no evidence that it’s a dangerous area.”

Shearer points to the federal government’s Black Spots Safety Funding Program as evidence, with Hahndorf never considered as a funding option under this program. He also says the truck ban on Hahndorf’s main street hasn’t resulted in an influx of heavy vehicles flooding surrounding roads, with traffic monitoring showing that 20 trucks per day use the diverted option of River Road.

“People on River Road don’t need to be as concerned as they were,” Shearer says.

“SA ministers have said that truck drivers are finding alternative routes that suit their purpose, with only a few using River Road. I’ve not had a single complaint about this since the ban commenced.

“While it may be quicker and easier to go up the main street of Hahndorf, the difference isn’t that great for truck drivers.”

Shearer’s concerns mainly centre around the new freight and supply chain strategy commissioned by the state government. He says the strategy is highlighting the benefit that freight has on local communities, underlining the importance of freight deliveries through and to Hahndorf.

However, Shearer has dismissed any ideas that rail could be an option to shift freight movements to in order to reduce the number of trucks on roads.

“People suggesting freight changes to trains are impractical – the idea just isn’t do-able,” Shearer says.

“You simply can’t and won’t find a train line going through the centre of Hahndorf, so all freight to Hahndorf has to come by truck.

“Rail is brilliant as a bulk long haul freight option, but about 80 per cent of the freight movement required in this region is not contestable by rail as it can’t provide the network, timeliness and flexibility that trucks can.”

Instead of calling for trucks to be diverted away from Hahndorf and the surrounding region, Shearer wants communities to accept freight routes like they do train lines. If people buy property under a flight path or near a train line, they have to accept the noise disruption that comes with it. The SARTA Executive Officer wants the same attitude to be taken when people live near key freight routes.

 Image: Ines Porada/stock.adobe.com

“There is a naïve community push to get all trucks taken off the freeway and send them 115km out of their way behind the Adelaide Hills. If that were to happen, the cost of living in places like Hahndorf and Mt Barker would triple,” Shearer says.

“Freight movement is essential and most of the demand is created by the community for their benefit, so they need to understand and accept that an efficient road freight network, coupled with the other modes such as rail, is just part of life.

“We have to live within the budget and see if a better bypass arrangement can keep everyone happy. Working together for a balanced and practical outcome that still moves freight safely and efficiently is the best realistic solution.”

Currently, Hahndorf residents are yet to accept this perspective and are taking action. Dissuaded community members have started online petitions for the government to devise another plan that takes the Hahndorf region’s citizens’ safety concerns into account. Whether it be school children riding their bikes or fellow motorists driving through the winding, narrow roads, the community wants to see the area made safer for heavy vehicle traffic.

Roberts and his fellow residents have had engineers examine the wider Hahndorf landscape, resulting in a new link road concept being developed.

“The concept has been developed to a high level – local landowners have been consulted and detailed road designs have been made,” Roberts says.

“The proposed road wouldn’t exceed the six per cent grade and wouldn’t come within 65m of any house.

“We believe it has huge potential and now the government and councils are aware of it and are taking an interest.”

Roberts is now asking the SA government to address the wide gap in infrastructure funding in the Adelaide Hills by giving the green light to the community’s link road initiative.

“We think this suggestion is more targeted to the regional and wider community needs well beyond Hahndorf. It would create a freight and commuter route that would cut traffic levels going through Hahndorf by 20 to 30 per cent while also reducing costs on the economy,” Roberts says.

“The link road is about 2.9km long and we’ve had it estimated to cost $56 million.”

Community and business representatives and members, drawn from Hahndorf and surrounds including Paechtown Road and Echunga, have met with SA premier Peter Malinauskas and Koutsantonis to present the proposal. Previously, they’ve been critical of the decisions made in Adelaide and Canberra regarding funding cuts around the Adelaide Hills.

Now, they’re pushing for a change of heart among city-based political leaders that will see the long-recognised pressures on Hahndorf and its regions addressed with real infrastructure investment.

The premier and SA transport minister have tasked the department of transport and infrastructure with conducting a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the link road. The analysis will take into account the current costs to the economy of the traffic problems that are endemic to the town, as well as the benefits and costs of building the road mapped against future traffic growth projections.

The community group will be meeting with the SA government in coming weeks to remain involved in the process.

While the group recognises Hahndorf may never return to its peaceful and historical glory, Roberts and the group are highlighting the need for investment to support a critical state tourism and agribusiness region.

“Unfortunately, previous decisions made have shown an apparent lack of awareness by governments when it comes to regional demands and how they can impact the wider state and national economy,” Roberts says.

“We have an encouraging relationship with the South Australian government and we’ll continue campaigning for the link road idea as a much-needed piece of infrastructure to address major problems in Hahndorf and surrounds.”

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