The fact that I drove past one particular work site three times this week started me thinking about what happens when a local issue becomes a national problem. Sometimes, there are problems which blow up in a very specific area, but the way they play out and how they are handled could have implications for people thousands of kilometres away in similar situations, when precedents are set.
It’s like the issues which have been building up for the last 20 years in the suburbs of South Yarra and Maribyrnong in Melbourne. A solution is at hand, with the trucking industry and concerned local residents coming up with a solution which keeps everybody happy, an extended curfew for reduced emission, quieter trucks.
This model could be used for future problems which are likely to appear as our ever-growing cities become more crowded and the demand for trucking services in those areas gets ever higher. The trade-off between clean, quiet and efficient trucks and access to congested urban areas has become common practice in many European cities and is likely to become more common here in Australia.
A more worrying prospect for the trucking industry may be playing out on theWarrego Highway as it heads west out of Brisbane and into Western Queensland. This is becoming an increasingly busy route with steadily increasing agricultural produce heading east to Brisbane and the port, as well as fuel and industrial equipment heading west to support the mining and gas industries. There is also a large proportion of the Brisbane/Melbourne freight task passing through.
This increased freight traffic prompted the Queensland and Federal governments to fund a second range crossing for Toowoomba. The capital was raised by government to build the 41 km highway, which takes a smoother and safer route up and over the Toowoomba Range. An infrastructure company is about to take over the management of the new road when it opens. It will then manage the new highway with funds raised by tolling.
With the opening of the new road only weeks away, there has been no announcement about the level of tolls which will be levied on vehicles using the road. This delay is raising concerns about the kind of charging which is being considered by the Queensland Government for the new road. There seems to be some political manoeuvring going on in the background as the powers that be decide on the figure they can announce.
For many people in the trucking industry in Queensland, who are putting in tenders or pricing up work, they have no idea how much they will be charged to travel up and down the mountain in the next five years.
The work site which got me thinking about this issue is a pair of large parking bays just east of Gatton on the Warrego. They are on both sides of the road and are being extended to become road train assembly areas. This is in preparation for the road authorities to allow Type1 road trains to travel down the new range crossing and get much closer to Brisbane that is currently permitted.
This is great, you say! It would be great if the planned assembly area was constructed big enough to handle more than a few road trains. Its size means that it will be generally impractical for road transport operators to use and they will continue breaking up the road trains to the west of Toowoomba where they currently do it.
Why build a road train assembly area if no one is going to use it? One possible answer to this puzzling question could be, so that the authorities could announce improved road train access to the east of the dividing range as a boon to productivity for the trucking industry, as they take away the benefits of that supposed productivity gain by charging much higher tolls on the new highway.
Using the rates charged on current toll roads in Queensland as a price guide, the cost for a heavy vehicle climbing the range should be just over $20. There is a suspicion that the creation of the very limited road train assembly is part of a program to lay the ground for a much higher toll rate on the new road.
What has this got to do with the trucking industry in the rest of Australia? You say. Well the issue is, this is the first toll road to be developed in a regional area and if the authorities get away with charging way over the going rate for the use of this new road, it could well serve as a precedent for other road builders around the country who can further overcharge the trucking industry to pay for new road infrastructure and future profits.
They have got away with it under the current road charging scheme nationally, let’s hope they haven’t found a second source of overcharging.