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The road that could revive ‘dying’ towns

Saturday, 9th January, 2021

Bulloo Shire Mayor John Ferguson. PICTURE: Why Warri Facebook Page Bulloo Shire Mayor John Ferguson. PICTURE: Why Warri Facebook Page

By Travis Radford

A dirt road running through a remote Shire in Queensland’s south-west corner could hold the key to helping the Far West’s ‘dying’ towns.

Bulloo Shire Mayor John Ferguson has been lobbying the Queensland Government for the last five to six years for a 150 kilometre-long stretch of road running through his Shire to be sealed.

“This [is] not just a little pet project for the Bulloo Shire. This will benefit all of Queensland and NSW,” he said.

“The whole project is to build these [regional] towns [and] to get more people out in the West.

“They won’t come any further [than Tibooburra] because the road’s no good,” said Mayor Ferguson.

This road is the Warri Gate Road. 

Pressure for its sealing has ramped up in recent months as the sealing of the last section of the Silver City Highway, that connects the Warri Gate to NSW, nears its 2022 completion date. 

“We seem to be still getting a lot more travellers around this time of the year when normally we wouldn’t,” said Packsaddle Roadhouse employee Glenice Gilby.

Ms Gilby said the sealing of the Silver City Highway had been a silver lining for her town and  business during the pandemic, with this and last year’s increased numbers of domestic travellers no longer having to brave a dirt road, that she said was subject to flooding and bogging.

But Ms Gilby said the majority of new travellers are from surrounding NSW towns, like Broken Hill.

“It [sealing the Warri Gate Road] would definitely build up the business heaps.

“It would certainly boost the whole Western Division out here,” she said.

Parkes MP Mark Coulton is one of a handful of federal and state ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who Mayor Ferguson said have shown interest in the project.

Mr Coulton said the road is the “missing link” between Queensland and NSW.

“The potential for opening up Western NSW ... is enormous.

“But ultimately, that section of road is the responsibility of the Queensland Government,” he said.

A Queensland government spokesperson said in a statement that the government was rather focusing on its Second Bruce Highway Plan that “delivers the widest benefits to Queensland”.

But Mayor Ferguson said “it doesn’t do anything for the bush”.

“There’s no votes out here for them [Labor],” he said.

The spokesperson, in the same statement, recommended that Mayor Ferguson use “funding available to him under the TIDS scheme”.

The Queensland government announced $280 million in Transport Infrastructure Development Scheme (TIDS) funding over the next four years that is given to councils to fund local road projects.

But Mayor Ferguson said his Council did not have the money to do that, as they would have to match any TIDS funding, given the Warri Gate Road is classed as a council road, rather than a state road.

Bulloo Shire Council sealed 10 kilometres of the Warri Gate Road last year, but Mayor Ferguson estimated that without state funding, sealing the road would take his Council 20 years to complete.

He estimated that state funding could have it finished in ten.

If the Queensland government nominated the Warri Gate Road for the Federal Government’s Roads of Strategic Importance Scheme and was successful, they would only pay 20% of the project’s cost.

Mayor Ferguson said he doesn’t believe a Queensland Labor Government would ever deliver the project.

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