A QUEENSLAND Government minister is suggesting driverless cars may be the hi-tech solution to fixing the crash-prone Kuranda Range road instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on upgrades.
Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford speculated that technology may solve the problems plaguing the 11.5km stretch of the Kennedy Highway between Smithfield and Kuranda.
“Who knows what’s going to happen with driverless cars,” he said yesterday.
The Barron River MP otherwise ruled out further substantial works on the range.
“Never say never, but you’re talking about investing taxpayers’ money,” Mr Crawford said.
“When I look at where we can spend on road upgrades across the electorate, the Western Arterial Road and the Captain Cook Highway are much higher priorities than the Kuranda Range.”
The drive-away cost of a car capable of autonomy, a Tesla Model S, would set back Queenslanders $136,890.
Other more affordable estimates place the price of a vehicle with self-drive capability still thousands more than traditionally driven cars.
The Department of Traffic and Main Roads has ruled out any further significant upgrades.
“There are currently no plans for a major upgrade of the Kuranda Range road,” a TMR spokesman said.
“Significant funding would be required to achieve even minor capacity improvements on the Kuranda Range due to the site constraints of the mountain.
“National Park exists on one side of the existing road with a large drop off on the other. An upgrade would also be very difficult to stage given the limited connection points between the current alignment and planned alignment.”
In 2008, plans for a fourlane upgrade were shelved until at least 2025 after the $500 million cost estimate doubled to $1 billion.
But business leaders on both sides of the 11.5km twistfest are unwilling to wait seven years or rely on as yet problematic and expensive vehicles for a solution.
“This involves state and federal levels of government and requires the support of councils in Cairns and the Tablelands,” Cairns Chamber of Commerce president Nick Loukas said. “We need them to look forward – this is a long-term project and they need to look beyond their tenure in government.”
His Mareeba-based counterpart, Joe Moro, said cost should not be an excuse.
“We will continue to lobby and it is up to government to change its priorities,” Mr Moro said.
He said alternate routes such as the Palmerston Highway would not provide the direct route needed between Cairns and the Tablelands.
“The Kuranda Range is the missing link,” Mr Moro said.