At the official opening of Ferries McDonald Road speakers included Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, Rural City of Murray Bridge Mayor, Alan Arbon, and Senator Simon Birmingham. All waxed lyrical on the day of the benefits of the sealing and realignment of the road, now built to the national B-double standard.
There can be no doubt that the road has been constructed to a high standard. It certainly cost enough at $5.5 million, with low points filled, high points levelled and bends straightened. Intersections have been redesigned at the northern and southern boundaries of the Ferries McDonald Conservation Park, through which the road passes, to slow traffic to an 80km/h limit to protect the endangered malleefowl and other fauna crossing the ever widening roadway.
The road upgrade will be welcomed by the local residents, who have suffered dust and potholes for many years, but where will the economic benefits come from? The road was originally justified as a route for wine grapes to travel to and from the Langhorne Creek area during the six weeks of vintage. Our little traffic survey with motion activated cameras only caught the last week of vintage but not one grape truck was snapped. We rather expected this.
Another justification was that the road was to be part of the national heavy transport network. It is true enough that we have seen a couple of heavy transports per night on the road, but hardly enough to justify the expenditure. One wag has suggested that the route is used by trucks to avoid the weighbridge between Tailem Bend and Murray Bridge, but this is hard to give substance to.
What our survey found was that most of the traffic on the road, that is about two thirds of the 400 or so vehicles captured per week, was locals pottering to and fro. A little over one fifth of the traffic was related to the green waste facility at the southern end of the conservation park, with many of the vehicles associated with the limestone quarry on the same property, established for the road building and still obviously active. There are still concerns around the carting of green waste through one conservation park and past another (Monarto), but time will tell whether this poses a risk to the vegetation.
The real breakthrough and potential long term benefit has been the establishment of an environment department within council. Skills learned around road building in sensitive areas have been the epiphany to an organisation that has come rather late to the environment. Further, this project has been closely watched by other councils and the learnings can be exported to other areas. The organisation is now populated with highly skilled and experienced professionals that will guide council through other projects.
We started discussions on this project with council late in 2006. It is a testament to our persistence that eight years later the main gain has been cultural rather than material.
Steve Coombe, Project Manager, Eastern Hills & Murray Plains Catchment Group Inc