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SA Government won’t budge on Port Augusta upgrades

State's civil contractors offer trenchant criticism but traffic seen as too light for the expense

By Rob McKay | March 18, 2013

The South Australian Government has given little encouragement to a civil contractors peak group that is lobbying it to tackle road infrastructure at Port Augusta.

The Civil Contractors Federation of Australia’s SA branch insists routes through and around Port Augusta, especially the Yorkeys Crossing Road bypass, are not fit for purpose and will impede economic development in the state’s north if not addressed.

However, in responding to pointed criticism from the federation, a spokesman for Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis says the issue has already been the subject of a review and the limited traffic does not yet justify the expense of upgrading the Yorkeys Crossing bypass.

The federation states that the route is crucial to supporting the expansion of mining and resources in the state’s north and the infrastructure in question is a Highway 1 causeway on the outskirts of the town, and a single lane bridge within the town.

The main bridge through Port Augusta cannot accommodate oversized vehicles, “which represents a large percentage of heavy vehicles passing through the town”.

The Yorkeys Crossing alternative” is the preferred route by most heavy trucks and all oversized vehicles in normal weather conditions”, it adds.

But after strong rainfalls and during high tide, the causeway is subject to flooding Yorkeys Crossing is an unsealed road prone to closure in wet weather.

“The current situation is ludicrous and has the potential to severely retard future development – if it isn’t already – in the north of SA, if the issue is not addressed as a matter of urgency,” the federation’s SA Branch Chief Executive Phil Sutherland says.

“The transport corridor in and around Port Augusta is one of the most strategically important in the nation – it is SA’s gateway to the west and north of Australia, and vice versa for businesses in those states.

“A safe, seamless and all-weather freight corridor must be established either through or around Port Augusta as a matter of priority.

“This is the only real way we are going to see a substantial expansion of the resources sector in South Australia, and just as importantly, offer certainty in the movement of freight to markets to the north and west of Australia and beyond – regardless of the weather conditions.

“Whichever way you look at the current situation, what we have is a trifecta of grossly inadequate strategic transport infrastructure.

“In bad weather, the whole northern gateway in and out of South Australia can be closed.”

Sutherland adds that it “beggars belief” the State Government has not made the issue a major priority.

“The federation just can’t believe the Government can’t see that an economic case can be made for upgrading Yorkeys Crossing to an all-weather road, and/or duplicating the Port Augusta Bridge,” Mr Sutherland said.

“South Australia is currently branding itself as the doorway to Australia. Unfortunately, we have some critically strategic road transport infrastructure that simply doesn’t measure up to this expectation,” he said

“The local council supports our push for an upgrade of these roads – now it’s up to the State Government to do likewise.”

Though the government aknowledges upgrades may need to be made, they appear unlikely to happen soon.

“DPTI undertook an operational review of the arterial road network in and around Port Augusta as part of the Port Augusta Road Management Plan . . . to take into account the expansion of mining activities in the area,” the spokesman says.

“Both the Port Augusta Bridge and Yorkeys Crossing were considered as part of that review, which included consultation with industry and the local council.

“Port Augusta Bridge is the main crossing for the Upper Spencer Gulf which carries about 17,500 vehicles a day. Yorkeys Crossing provides an alternative route and carries about 12 vehicles a day.

“DPTI has assessed the preliminary cost of the upgrade to an all-weather crossing, and this totals about $45 million in 2011 dollars.

“Based on the cost and the amount of traffic, the proposal to upgrade Yorkeys Crossing is not justified at this time.

“It should also be remembered that the Stuart Highway from Port Augusta to Pimba and the Pimba to Roxby Downs road have recently been upgraded with $25 million invested to widen the road and seal the shoulders so as to accommodate the extra vehicle traffic anticipated from the ongoing expansion of the mining industry in the State’s far north.”

The comment period on the draft Port Augusta Road Management Plan, published in March last year, ended on January 24, three years after the plan was committed to.

It places consideration of Yorkeys Crossing and bridge upgrades as a medium to long-term proposition as part of a broader road, rail and intermodal investment project.

However, an engineering assessment into Yorkey Crossing “to determine localised improvements for increased level of service” was short to medium term.

The draft plan notes the lack of a funding stream for any such projects.

On traffic growth due to BHP Billiton’s (BHPB’s) Olympic Dam expansion, the draft relies on
2011 Resources and Energy Sector Infrastructure Council (RESIC) infrastructure demand study and the company’s environmental impact statements (EISs)

The EISs estimate heavy vehicle movements through the town as likely to peak at 65 heavy vehicles a day four years after the expansion project’s start, falling to two such trips a day three years later.

“BHPB indicates that it expects very few over dimension loads to use the Yorkey Crossing route,” the draft states.

“It estimates a peak of four per day for over dimension loads between 3.5 [metres] and 5.5 [metres]. Only loads greater than 4 [metres]
wide are required to use Yorkey Crossing and this is estimated to be less than two trips per day.

“The projected peak demands in heavy vehicles from the RESIC study and BHPB EIS collectively result in an 8 percent increase of commercial vehicles crossing the Port Augusta bridge.

“It is considered unlikely the peak demands from the Olympic Dam expansion and other projects identified in the RESIC study will coincide.”

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