TIMELINE: Why upgrades to the SH17 road are so crucial
STATE Highway 17 has become the centre of a raging debate, with increased usage and deteriorating conditions putting drivers’ lives on the line.
SH17, also known as the Brisbane Valley Highway, runs through much of the Somerset Region, connecting at each end to the Warrego and D’Aguilar Highways.
The safety debate has been raging since August, following the most recent in a rising number of accidents on the highway.
A 71-year-old truck driver named Don Coleman was tragically killed when his truck rolled over and caught alight while travelling along the maligned highway.
The incident took place at Yimbun, where Mr Coleman was announced dead at the scene.
Mr Coleman was the owner of the Toogoolawah Feedlot, and had a long, proud history of supporting his local community.
During their meeting, Somerset Regional Councillors decided enough was enough, and resolved to write to Mark Bailey, Minister for Transport and Main Roads.
Concerns surrounding SH17 were further discussed during the Somerset Traffic and Safety Advisory Committee meeting.
Representatives from Somerset Regional Council, Queensland Police Service, and the Department of Transport and Main Roads were all in attendance, and acknowledge the safety issues on the highway were too significant to ignore.
Council sent their letter to the Minister, calling for the State to undertake an urgent safety review of the entire highway, to ‘assess the contributing factors associated with these accidents, and to consider what improvements might be made to increase safety on these most important roads within our region.’
Engineering consultants GHD were contracted by council to carry out an independent review of the highway, confirming the unsafe nature of the highway.
GHD investigated the roadway, comparing road usage data from past TMR surveys to current guidelines.
Their report revealed the increased amount of traffic on the SH17 meant it no longer met current safety standards, with subpar surfacing, and insufficient shoulder width.
A 20-year-old man from Mt Crosby died after his motorbike collided with another vehicle, while travelling on the Brisbane Valley Highway at Ironbark.
Following the latest fatality, council submitted a second letter, including the GHD report, to the Minister, once again requesting a safety review of the highway.
“Lives continue to be lost on this state highway and it’s simply not good enough,” Somerset Mayor Graeme Lehmann said at the time.
“It’s more than a safety issue – economies are being impacted by the poor state of SH17 – and our pastoralists, producers and business owners are suffering.”
The council announced they had committed to providing alternatives to SH17, carrying out upgrades on Gregors Creek Road to allow more traffic to use it.
When the $3.3 million works are completed, the route will be 6.5kms shorter than the SH17 section currently connecting Kilcoy and Toogoolawah.
Mayor Graeme Lehmann launched a safety campaign along SH17, posting LED signs in Fernvale, Esk and Toogoolawah to let motorists know there were serious safety concerns with the road.
The RACQ’s Star Rating and Crash Risk AusRAP Assessment examined the risk of death and serious injury on the SH17, showing 64 per cent of the section was a two-star road.
Their reported recommended an investment of $30 million would be enough to cover the installation of new safety barriers and signage, bringing the road status up to three stars.
though this would only be a band-aid measure, which wouldn’t improve the overall condition of the road.
“This is a small investment for a rural highway compared to the State Government’s annual capital budget of $12.9 billion,” Cr Lehmann said.
“I ask the State Government, what price can you put on a life?”
A third letter was sent to the Minister for Main Roads, attaching the RACQ report as further proof of the need for a safety review of the highway.
Member for Ipswich West Jim Madden announced his intention to carry out a $14.4 million upgrade to the Brisbane Valley Highway, set to commence in the 2020/21 financial year.
The proposed upgrade would include wider centerlines and new guardrails to improve safety.
Member for Nanango and State Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington lent her voice to the rising calls for safety improvements on the highway.
“It is critical the Labor Government listens to our calls for funding for State Highway 17,” she said.
“The Roads Minister only considers the highway to be a ‘popular scenic drive’. This comment shows how out of touch he is with the Somerset region.”
A response from Mark Bailey to council’s very first letter was finally received on October 30, and reviewed by councillors during their next meeting.
In his response, the Minister said he had the Department to investigate the highway, but only in two small areas where accidents had recently occurred: Lawlers Bridge at Harlin, and the Wanora and Drapers Rds intersection at Wanora.
Councillors moved to write to the Minister once more, reiterating the need for a review to be made of the entirety of the highway.