No room for rest areas in $3.5bn road splurge

Nothing from Queensland's $3.53 billion road program will be spent on rest areas, despite industry facing new fees and taxes

No room for rest areas in $3.5bn road splurge
No room for rest areas in $3.5bn road splurge
By Brad Gardner

Queensland will not build or upgrade any heavy vehicle rest areas under its multi-billion dollar road infrastructure program, despite slugging the trucking sector with new fees and taxes.

From July 1, trucking operators will be forced to pay an extra 9.2 cents a litre for fuel, higher registration fees and a 0.7 cent increase to the road user charge.

But while Main Roads—the department responsible for constructing rest areas—shovels $3.53 billion into projects on the Gateway, Logan and Ipswich motorways and the Centenary and Bruce Highways, not one cent will be invested in roadside facilities.

Instead, the Government has allocated $4 million from revenue collected under the Camera Detected Offence Program, a smaller sum than what is expected to be collected from the trucking industry when higher registration and fuel charges take effect.

According to the Queensland Trucking Association (QTA), the Government’s decision to scrap the 8.35 cent per litre fuel subsidy will push up running costs by as much as 25 percent.

The group argues the new fuel tax combined with a 3.2 percent jump in heavy vehicle registration fees will add another $100,000 in costs to a transport company employing 20 people.

"Absorbing the increased costs will lead to further job losses and downsizing of freight operations," QTA Chief Executive Peter Garske says.

Furthermore, Queensland Budget papers reveal that funding for rest areas beyond 2010 is uncertain, as no more revenue from the Camera Detected Offence Program will be allocated to roadside facilities.

Treasurer Andrew Fraser says the investment in rest areas—climbing from $1 million in 2008-09 to $4 million 2009-10—"is a time-limited program".

But when asked where the revenue from the Camera Detected Offence Program would go from 2010 onwards, Fraser could not give a definitive answer.

"The program is legislated and that revenue continues to go through, as it has to, to road safety improvements and road safety programs," he says.

A spokesperson for Main Roads says the department will deliver 52 new or upgraded heavy vehicle rest areas between 2008 and 2014 through a joint government-funded $47.1 million program.

According to the spokesperson, the State Government is due to invest $21.5 million towards the initiative, with funding coming from Safer Roads Sooner, Main Roads' fatigue management program and the Camera Detected Offence Program.

But while $4 million is coming from speed camera revenue, the 2009-2010 Budget does not allocate any funds from Safer Roads Sooner or the fatigue management program.

Furthermore, there is no mention in last year’s Budget of funds from either initiative being used on rest areas.

Under the $47.1 million program, the Bruce Highway is to receive 10 new or upgraded rest areas, with the Warrego Highway and Gregory Development Road due to receive five each.

The Main Roads spokesperson says the department will spend $500,000 upgrading two rest areas on the Mitchell Highway by December this year.

Registration fees for state-based heavy vehicles and those operating under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS) will rise by 3.2 percent from July 1.

This will coincide with a reduction in the fuel tax credit to 16.34 cents, which the National Transport Commission says is justified on the basis of government investment in road infrastructure.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has supported the increase, but wants the new charges delayed until January 1, 2010.

The Bligh Government decided to impose a fuel tax from July, arguing it would save the State $2.4 billion and help restore government finances buffeted by the global economic downturn.

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