Big harvest fuels fears over roads

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

WA's peak local government body has warned the State Government that it is facing a road safety crisis and massive budget blowout as farmers prepare for a bumper grain harvest.

The WA Local Government Association weighed into the debate over the future of grain freight rail lines with a dire assessment of the condition of Wheatbelt roads under the burden of thousands of extra truck movements.

It said the State Government faced road costs of hundreds of millions of dollars to allow the safe transport of grain by truck.

It will request an assessment of all relevant local-government roads used for grain freight to determine the cost and schedule for required safety, upgrade and maintenance work.

The move came after Brookfield Rail announced it was closing the York to Quairading and Merredin to Trayning lines and with the future of the remaining lines, known as Tier 3, in doubt.

WALGA president Troy Pickard said most local roads were not designed for the grain freight task and local governments could not keep up with the cost of repairs and maintenance.

"To move significant freight on to local roads may have a significantly detrimental effect on the road safety and structural integrity of a road," he said.

The State and Commonwealth allocated $118 million to Wheatbelt road upgrades about three years ago after a policy decision not to invest in Tier 3.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Troy Buswell, who estimates 12 per cent of WA's grain is carried on Tier 3, said about 80 per cent of the upgrades had been completed.

But Quairading shire president and local farmer Darryl Richards said the State's so-called upgrades were a debacle.

"On the Quairading to York road they have just done a patch-up job, a real political stunt," he said. "That road is already breaking up and it will break up even further with the rain we have had and the trucks at harvest."

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