Shutdown after road crumbles

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Concerns raised by opponents of the Tier 3 rail line shutdowns were strengthened this week with the forced closure of the Cunderdin-Quairading road because of damage caused by an increased number of trucks.

Ratepayers in the Cunderdin Shire could also be hit with a hefty bill to fix the road, which has been used to cart almost 30,000 tonnes of grain since the end of the 2014 harvest.

Under section 3.50 of the Local Government Act, the Shire of Cunderdin has closed the road to heavy haulage traffic for the maximum period of four weeks.

Shire of Cunderdin president Clive Gibsone said costings for the roadworks were yet to be determined but an engineer would provide further information in coming weeks on the extent of the damage and the works involved.

He estimated the road had 70 truck movements a day during peak carting periods, equating to a truck movement every five to seven minutes. "We will be requesting funding assistance from Main Roads WA once we receive that report," he said.

But Mr Gibsone said since this was a local road, it was most likely ratepayers would be forced to foot the bill.

The public notice issued last week said the road was closed because of "severe structural damage to the road surface and subsurface from continual heavy movements over the past week in extreme weather conditions".

According to Bureau of Meteorology recordings, the Shire suffered three days above 42C early last week.

Mr Gibsone said the extreme hot weather had exacerbated the road damage.

Cunderdin farmer Frank O'Hare, who owns property on both sides the Cunderdin-Quairading road, said he had to be particularly careful when moving sheep and machinery between his properties.

"I have noticed a considerable increase in traffic and truck movements and, when CBH is carting to meet a schedule, the frequency of trucks significantly increases," he said. CBH has now been forced to truck all grain from the Quairading receival site to Avon, along the Quairading-York road, Northam-York road, Yilgarn Avenue, Great Eastern Highway and Northam-Toodyay road.

According to CBH logistics manager Ben Raisbeck, the bulk handler had planned to move 82,000 tonnes to Cunderdin from the Quairading bin after the 2014 harvest.

But since the closure of the Cunderdin-Quairading road, the remaining grain would now be carted to the Avon receival site.

Mr Raisbeck said CBH would go back to using the Cunderdin-Quairading road if and when it reopened for the remaining export task from Quairading.

He confirmed it was more expensive to move grain from Quairading to York than to the standard gauge at Cunderdin.

Quairading shire president Darryl Richards said while he supported the move by Cunderdin to close the local road, his community now faced extra truck movements on the Quairading-York road.

Mr Richards said the Quairading-York road was owned and maintained by Main Roads WA, but he expected to see major failings in the coming weeks with the extra trucks on the road.

He said piecemeal upgrades of the road by Main Roads WA were not going to withstand the extra truck movements.

"Here we have two failed government assets running parallel to each other from Quairading to York, the Tier 3 rail and the road. The irony of that is not lost on any of us," he said.

Mr Richards said former Transport Minister Troy Buswell had announced $10.5 million in funding in 2012 for the Quairading-York road through the Safer Country Roads fund, but less than $1.5 million had been spent.

With recent upgrades to the Quairading receival sites, and room for more bulkheads to be built, Mr Richards warned that heavy haulage traffic on the Cunderdin-Quairading road would only increase.

"The cost of the damage to this road is being borne by Cunderdin ratepayers, but this will apply to the Quairading Shire in the long term as well, and yet the harvest is coming from way outside the Quairading district into our bin," he said.

"There has got to be equity in the long-term maintenance of all these roads. This is an industry and State Government responsibility."

Meanwhile, there are also fears that the Quairading-York road may not cope as well.

Transport Minister Dean Nalder has admitted "unfortunate delays" had prevented works being completed on the road because necessary clearing permits from the Department of Environment Regulation to enable the removal of trees impacted on the Government's ability to carry out the maintenance.

_Countryman _ also understands that no money has been allocated in this year's budget for road-widening work. It is also understood further road deterioration has occurred in several places on the road, which will require an additional allocation of State funds to fix.

"While relevant permits have now been issued for a significant length of this road and it is anticipated that similar permits will be issued for the remainder of the route by the end of this financial year, it needs to be recognised that funding for this type of work is allocated on an annual basis. Funding will be dealt with in the 2015-16 State Budget," Mr Nalder said.

Wheatbelt Railways Retention Alliance chairman Greg Richards said it was almost five years to the day that the group had first raised this issue with the Government.

"My preference would be for it to go back on rail," he said.

"The best road we have for carting grain is the railway line. Put a bit of money into it and it's going to last a lot longer than these local roads are going to. How much more evidence does Mr Barnett need before he re-looks at it?"

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