The Bruce: A project report

Roads & Infrastructure speaks with Mark Bailey, Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister, about future-proofing one of Australia’s most significant freight corridors.

The Bruce Highway Caloundra Road and Sunshine Motorway Upgrade is one of 400 Bruce Highway upgrade projects. Known as “the Bruce”, the project caters for a one per cent annual exceedance probability flood, meaning a flood event that occurs once every 100 years.

Running from November to April each year, Queensland’s flooding season, known as ‘the wet’, has a significant effect on the state’s infrastructure and transport network.

Damage to road surfaces and structures is common, as are road closures that disrupt freight movements and isolate communities from industry and social services.

According to the Australian Senate’s Cranking up the intensity: climate change and extreme weather events report, high intensity rainfall and flooding has the potential to change ground conditions and alter structural foundations. The report, released in August 2018, also highlights the financial implications of supply chain disruption, lost productivity and increased maintenance and repair costs.

With climate change creating increased weather extremity, the report suggests further investment is needed to ‘weatherproof’ Australia’s infrastructure network.

The concept behind the Bruce Highway Upgrade, Queensland’s largest ever infrastructure project, is similar, with a focus on increased flood amenity through road design.

In a 2017 Future Proofing the Bruce policy statement, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said flooding, which frequently halts traffic flow along the Bruce Highway corridor, disrupts economic growth opportunities.

Disruption comes in the form of literal expenditure, for example, the Queensland Reconstruction Authority has spent more than $15 billion on reconstruction as a result of natural disasters since 2011.

It also arises in the form of lost future revenue, given the highway’s central role in the nation’s freight supply chain.

As per the policy statement, the Department of Transport and Main Roads identified 10 sites of major concern on the Bruce between Gympie and Cairns. Major concern applies to sites where flooding has stopped traffic for a minimum of 12 hours. Action points include constructing new by-passes and bridges and installing improved drainage systems and culverts.

At the time of writing, the upgrade, which commenced in July 2013, has delivered 51 new bridges, 27 new rest stops, 122 kilometres of safety upgrades and 154 kilometres of wide centreline treatments.

The longest transport artery 

In his 2019 Freight Strategy Ministerial Foreword, Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said ensuring the freight network remains operational during times of flooding is vital to supporting community recovery efforts.

As a result, he argues for an integrated, resilient and safe freight system that reflects the important role the transport industry plays in Queensland’s overall economic growth.

“While it may not be feasible at this time to provide an entirely flood-free route, roads are assessed to ensure a consistent standard is provided for that specific network link,” Mr. Bailey tells Roads & Infrastructure.

To mitigate flood impacts and keep the supply chain moving, the 2019-20 state budget awarded $200 million annually over four years to priority upgrades across the full length of the highway between Brisbane and Cairns.

“The Bruce Highway is the backbone of our state, connecting millions of Queenslanders and supporting regional economies with freight and business transport,” Mr. Bailey says.

“It is a vital part of the National Land Transport Network, providing linkages for west-east freight networks, connecting significant resource and inland agricultural production areas to 11 coastal ports and is a major tourist route.”

An Infrastructure Australia spokesperson expressed similar sentiments, suggesting that maintaining freight connectivity was the central factor behind the decision to include four Bruce Highway projects on the Infrastructure Priority list.

Listed projects include Caloundra Road to Sunshine Motorway, which was added in 2016, Mackay Ring Road – Stage One and Cooray to Curra, which were added in 2017 and Edmonton to Gordonvale Stage Three, which was added in 2019.

“The highway is the major coastal road transport route between Brisbane and Cairns, and with Queensland’s freight task expected to double between 2010–11 and 2025–26, the highway will play a key role in absorbing increased traffic volumes,” the spokesperson says.

“At Infrastructure Australia, we recognise improving connectivity on the Bruce Highway is both nationally significant and strategically important for the prosperity of the state of Queensland.”

To improve freight movement along the Bruce Highway, Mr. Bailey says works are currently underway on the $514 million Haughton River Floodplain Upgrade, which includes reconfigured intersections and 13.5 kilometres of upgraded highway pavement, and the $497 million Mackay Ring Road Stage One, which involves new overtaking lanes and underpass provisions.

The Mackay Ring Road Project was awarded to CPB Contractors in 2017. In a statement at the time, Managing Director Roman Garrido said CPB was committed to ensuring its construction methods achieved all project objectives. Construction is expected to conclude in late 2020.

Other projects currently underway are the $104 million Cairns Southern Access Upgrade Stage Four, which will see an existing four-lane dual carriageway upgraded to a six-lane dual carriageway, and the $121 million Rockhampton Northern Access Upgrade, which involves the duplication of 4.9 kilometres of highway.

Mr. Bailey says over 122 kilometres of roadside has also been upgraded this year as part of the Safer Roadsides Program.

National Land Transport Network

Initially conceptualised as a $8.5 billion 10-year project, the Bruce Highway Upgrade is jointly funded by the Federal and Queensland Government. Since 2013, the program has expanded, with state government estimates suggesting the upgrade will deliver $12.6 billion in works over 15 years.

In response to the project’s expansion, the Federal Government committed an additional $3.3 billion to the project in May, based on the 80:20 National Land Transport Network funding arrangement.

Projects that fall under the National Land Transport Network, such as the Bruce, are primarily the financial responsibility of the Federal Government.

Under the National Land Transport Act 2014, the Federal Infrastructure Minister determines the network, which broadly applies to national and inter-regional land transport corridors of critical importance to national and regional economic growth and connectivity.

According to Mr. Bailey, the Queensland National Partnership Agreement outlines governance and administrative arrangements between the two governments towards the implementation of the federal infrastructure investment program.

The first infrastructure related Queensland National Partnership Agreement was made in 2009, while the Bruce Highway Upgrade falls under the 2014 Major Infrastructure Projects agreement. Despite the recent financial injection, in September Mr. Bailey called for further federal funding.

He specifically called on the Federal Government to sign up to the Bruce Highway Trust and commit to a deal locking in an annual $1 billion investment over the next decade.

The Bruce Highway Trust was announced in 2017 and received a $10 million budget allocation in 2019. While it is yet to be established, Mr. Bailey says the council will draw on industry and government stakeholders to identify key investment priorities and centralise project authority.

The council will also develop a 15-year strategic vision for the project.

In the Future Proofing the Bruce policy statement, Ms. Palaszczuk outlines unstable funding commitments as the key cause of project delay and constraint.

“By bolstering the current rate of investment in the Bruce Highway for the next 20 years beyond the current program, the busiest parts of the network will be able to be traversed safely, reliably and efficiently, and investment decisions can be made without worrying about the risks of transport failure,” the statement reads.

“In line with historical funding arrangements, the Federal Government will be expected to meet its fair share of funding commitments consistent with the funding arrangements for the National Land Transport Network.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack tells Roads & Infrastructure that the Federal Government has committed $10 billion to the project over 15 years, through the Bruce Highway Upgrade Program.

This includes $4.4 billion over the forward estimates from 2019–20 to 2022–23, at an average of $1.1 billion per year, he says.

“The government will continue to work in partnership with the Queensland Government to identify future upgrades required on the Bruce Highway and to ensure the successful and timely delivery of the current program,” Mr. McCormack says.

“The government is considering a request by the Queensland Government to provide a representative to be a member on the Bruce Highway Trust, which is being established as an advisory body to assist with identifying future investment priorities.”

While the future funding arrangement of the Bruce Highway Upgrade is still in question, Mr. McCormack says the highway’s inclusion on the National Land Transport Network reflects its national importance.

“The 1700-kilometre Bruce Highway is Queensland’s major north-south road corridor and supports around 58 per cent of Queensland’s population,” he says.

With extreme weather events set to increase as a result of the world’s changing climate, future infrastructure planning will likely have to contend with higher rates of flooding. Mirroring the approach of the Queensland Government, roads authorities will therefore have to design upgrades in accordance.

Diverging Diamond Interchange

The Bruce Highway Upgrade’s largest current project, the $812.95 million Caloundra Road to Sunshine Motorway upgrade, features Australia’s first Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI).

During peak hours, traffic at each intersection backs up onto the highway from on-and-off-ramps, leading to significant delays and safety implications for through-traffic. Queensland Government traffic modelling analysis indicates that delays would worsen without significant interchange infrastructure upgrades.

Delivered by a Fulton Hogan Seymour White Joint Venture, with designers Arup and Jacobs, the DDI will allow right-turning and through traffic to move through the interchange simultaneously, reducing congestion and collision potential.

When complete, drivers wanting to make a right turn at the interchange will only have to use one set of traffic lights, while driver wanting to make a left turn won’t need to stop at any signals.

Other project features include provisions for a service road on the western side of the highway, improved facilities for pedestrian and cyclist movement, a new carpool lane and the installation of intelligent transport systems such as CCTV cameras, vehicle detection technology and variable speed limit and message signs.

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