May 4, 2017
A new focus on grading low-traffic rural roads could see the total amount of road maintainence in the South Burnett more than triple in the coming 12 months.
Roads portfolio chair Cr Spud Jones told a public meeting in Kumbia on Wednesday night the new approach had to potential to expand road maintenance from 60km to more than 200km per year.
Cr Jones said he freely admitted the roads maintenance processes the Council had been pursuing over the past 12 months hadn’t worked well for some parts of the region, but promised a new system he had devised would deliver better value for money and significantly more road maintenance in the year ahead.
Cr Jones also said he thought the main reason road maintenance hadn’t been as effective as it could have been over the past year was the instructions Council staff were being given, not the workers themselves.
“I want to make it clear I stand by the guys on the ground,” Cr Jones said.
“They know what they’re doing and when they’re given free rein, they do work that is second to none.
“We just need to remove some blockages in the system that we’ve identified, and change our focus a bit, and we will be doing that.”
The public meeting had been called by Kumbia residents Peter Gemmell and Roland Winter to discuss the state of the district’s rural roads, and was held in the Kumbia Memorial Hall supper room.
It paralleled similar meetings called in recent weeks by Ironpot and Proston residents, who were also unhappy with the state of their rural roads.
The Kumbia meeting was compered by Peter Gemmell and was also attended Cr Ros Heit, Cr Terry Fleischfresser and South Burnett Mayor Keith Campbell.
Peter began the meeting by asking the 60 Kumbia district residents who attended to be polite and civil, and give everyone a fair go – particularly the Councillors who’d come along to hear their concerns.
Everyone who wanted to speak would be given the chance to do so, he said.
“Remember we’re here to get things fixed, not just to vent our feelings.”
Audience members were then given the chance to write down the names of the roads that concerned them, and tell their stories about what impact poor roads were having on their lives, or where they thought road maintenance was failing them.
Over the next two hours, the meeting heard from more than a dozen road transport operators, school bus drivers, farmers, tourist operators and residents about the difficulties poorly-maintained local roads were causing them.
Several speakers shared their fears that some local roads had become so dangerous a fatal road crash seemed inevitable if immediate action wasn’t taken to fix them.
Farmers told how they were becoming reluctant to move their farm machinery because the of the state of the roads, and believed this was slowing down agribusiness in the area.
School bus operators described the difficulties they faced travelling narrow, winding roads with washouts, and a road transport operator told how he was unwilling to use a back road to travel to Kingaroy because it was too dangerous, and preferred to use the highway instead.
A local tourist operator said her own business generated an average 600 car trips a month along her road, but when neighbours’ traffic was added in, she estimated the total traffic volume was between 10,000 and 15,000 vehicles per year.
Despite this, her road had been in a poor state of repair for the past four years and what little maintenance had been carried out had been poorly done, and washed away in the next heavy rainfall.
During the course of the evening, Crs Heit and Fleischfresser and Mayor Campbell clarified a number of points as they were raised during the talks.
In response to a question about how road complaints were dealt with, Cr Heit explained she now used an app to photograph road complaints, which lodged the precise GPS coordinates and automatically emailed the photo and data to the Council’s road engineers so they could conduct their own inspection.
This was so efficient, she said, Council was looking into whether they could release the app so residents could use it themselves.
In response to a question about where rates were spent, Mayor Campbell said that road works now consumed about 50 per cent of the Council’s budget each year.
And in response to a question about what value rural residents got for their rates, Cr Fleischfresser told the audience they shouldn’t forget that town residents were contributing to the maintenance of the region’s rural roads, too.
While it was true rural residents might not enjoy the same level of Council services as townsfolk in terms of garbage collection, water and sewerage, this tended to get balanced out by each town’s road maintenance contributions.
After all the speakers had finished, the floor was turned over to Cr Jones, who explained he could not answer for anything that was done prior to his election in March last year.
He also said that in his first 12 months in the job – as a new Councillor – there was little he could do except take professional advice from Council’s staff and watch, observe and gather facts.
But what he had been able to do in the Roads portfolio was see for himself that some processes used by the Council were inefficient and others were ineffective, and then devise a better system that was now being put into effect.
Cr Jones said one of the main problems he’d noticed was that Council’s road crews weren’t paying attention to drainage when they graded dirt roads, with the result that a lot of maintenance work disintegrated after heavy rainfall.
Another big problem was that Council had been putting its main emphasis on gravel resheeting heavily trafficked roads in the past few years and carrying out very little maintenance on less busy roads, which had led to the sort of problems residents had outlined earlier in the night.
The solution, he said, was to swap the emphasis from full gravel resheeting – which cost $50,000 to $60,000 a kilometre and took a long time to carry out – onto low-maintenance grading which cost one-fifth the price and could be carried out in a third of the time.
Cr Jones said he wanted to make it clear that “low-maintenance grading” did not mean doing a substandard job. Especially not if the Council changed its current procedures to pay attention to drainage when maintenance work was being carried out.
But after several years of focussing on the region’s high-traffic roads – which were now in generally good condition – it was time to turn to the less trafficked roads which were the main area of concern that night in Kumbia, and were of equal concern to Ironpot and Proston district residents, too.
To conclude the meeting, Peter Gemmell asked the audience to lift their hands to show if they were willing to support Cr Jones’ plan, and almost everyone did.
Mr Gemmell said he’d heard Cr Jones had received the same response at the Ironpot and Proston meetings, and like other residents he was prepared to give the new plan a fair chance to work.
“I’m actually a bit relieved almost everyone thought the same way,” Mr Gemmell told southburnett.com.au.
“If they hadn’t, that would have left us in a bit of a difficult position, wouldn’t it?”