Truckies react to new TSRC
WITH not much fanfare, the western section of the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing was opened to the public in early December.
The partial opening of the TSRC between Cranley and Charlton will provide new connections between Toowoomba's central business district, via Mort St, and the Warrego Highway at Charlton, the Wellcamp Airport via the Toowoomba-Cecil Plains Rd, and onto the Gore Highway at Athol.
Work to upgrade Griffiths St from Mort St to Harlaxton in the east will provide a permanent link between the TSRC and the New England Highway. The upgraded section of Griffiths St will become a designated multi-combination route with "as-of'-right” access for B-doubles to operate between the New England Highway and the TSRC.
The eastern section of the TSRC, which connects with the Warrego Highway at Helidon Spa, is expected to be opened towards the middle of 2019.
But what impact will the recent opening of the western section of the TSRC have on local and through-Toowoomba truck traffic?
And what impact is anticipated once the full length of the TSRC is opened to traffic in 2019?
Big Rigs spoke to a number of transport operators in and around Toowoomba to gauge their impressions.
Well-known Brisbane - Mount Isa - Darwin trucking identity Ricky Blinco is based at Oakey, just off the Warrego Highway about 30 kilometres west of Toowoomba.
"At the moment it will have no impact on our operations,” Mr Blinco said.
"I have taken a run along the new section to check it out, but until the rest of it is opened and the toll charges are known, it's difficult to really say.”
Mr Blinco's sentiment was echoed by Darren Nolan, a director of Nolan's Transport, which is based at Gatton about 40 kilometres east of Toowoomba.
"If it saves time and it was financially viable to do it, we would need to consider it. But we don't know that yet,” Mr Nolan said.
"We are in the business of trying to minimise cost impacts, so from a customer point of view we'd have to carefully weigh up what the situation is. But as yet we haven't made any decisions about using it.”
Bruce Rub Refrigerated Transport is based at Drayton on the southern edge of Toowoomba and runs a busy fleet of refrigerated vans on single trailer operations.
With his fleet based on the south side of Toowoomba, Bruce Rub said his trucks load from south of the city with freight for the Brisbane Markets then return with deliveries into Toowoomba's CBD.
With no direct access from the TSRC to the south side of the city, he too was concerned with the toll charges on the finished TSRC and with what may or may not be imposed on transport operations that will still use the existing Toowoomba Range road and James St.
Out to the southwest of Toowoomba, Kent Baillie is a director of Pittsworth-based Mount Isa Carriers.
Mr Baillie operates a fleet of some 22 trucks, many of which are specced for double and triples road train operations across western and northwestern Queensland.
Mr Baillie has been involved, through the consultative process, with the TSRC project for much of the past two years and had attended many consultative meetings in that time.
He acknowledged that the TSRC clearly has considerable potential, but his concerns as to whether it would be viable for his company to use it centred around three main issues: the toll charges; the travel times and actual vehicle costs in running the new road; and what restrictions, if any, might be placed on trucks continuing to use the existing road network.
For others, several of whom didn't wish to be identified but included both small and large fleet operations, the TSRC bypass also projected enormous potential for them, especially for truck traffic that was simply passing through the city on its way to destinations in the southwest, west, northwest and north, in particular.
But the unknown toll charges, their likely operating costs in terms of both time and money in running the new road in an industry that exists on very tight financial margins anyway, and the uncertainty as to what limits may or may not be placed on transport continuing to use the existing eastwest truck route across Toowoomba, remained as unresolved issues.
Queensland Transport Association CEO Gary Mahon said their organisation had been heavily engaged with the Government throughout the project. He's been on a number of site tours as the project has progressed and regards it as a marvellous piece of infrastructure, particularly as it represents a significant investment in regional infrastructure that has considerable potential to connect up to an inland freight route.
Such a route would see a lot more freight come out of Brisbane to Roma and head north and would offer an alternate to the always busy and often weather-impacted Bruce Highway.
Mr Mahon commented that the TSRC wasn't just a new road for road transport to use, he saw that significant benefits would come out of it for all of Toowoomba, but the cost of using it shouldn't just be directed at truck operators.
"We are very concerned as to the quantum of that toll,” he said.
"It should be fair and just. They should be using a model that incentivises people to use it, not dis-incentivises them by making it so harsh that people will be working out ways just to get around. And that would just be ridiculous.”
"We, (the transport industry), accept that it's going to have a toll, but you don't solve hard issues with bad policy.
"There are precedents. If you look at the Brisbane urban freight corridor which, while it has bans on it, there are also exceptions on it for local depots, local operators and for local deliveries, and to the best of my knowledge, there is no undue issue with that,” Mr Mahon said.
"The TSRC is a concession of 42 kilometres,” he said, "but we have a benchmark, as the trip from Gailes through to the Port of Brisbane (via the Logan and Gateway Motorways, which are both toll roads) is about 50 kilometres and it's about $15 a one-way trip (for an articulated truck).”