ROAD RETHINK: Concerns over current flawed highway plan

AFTER intently studying the concept plans for the $124.5m Port Wakefield Overpass and Highway Duplication Project, attending consultation sessions and writing to politicians and other interested parties, Lochiel farmer, Nick Ottens, still strongly believes there are better alternatives to the current proposal than the current ‘flawed plans’.

“If we are spending that much money, we should get it right – currently it’s a dog’s breakfast,” Nick said.

“I attended the last two consultation sessions and have written letters to the Members of Parliament involved with this project and received polite replies to my concerns.”

“I think many locals didn’t attend the most recent information session on August 13 as they are frustrated their concerns weren’t addressed last time,” Nick said.

“While it is very good to see money spent in our region, this project is flawed, and I have spoken to other primary producers and members of both the business and general community who share my concerns.

“This project not only impacts those of us who live locally, but everyone who lives north of Port Wakefield in the northern and western regions of our state.”

Nick has an extensive knowledge and understanding of planning and development, as while working as a farmer and truck driver now, Nick has a Bachelor of Surveying degree, and studied engineering surveying, civil engineering and town planning.

He is also the chairman for the Snowtown Strategic Site with Viterra, farms land either side of the highway, and regularly travels the road to and from Port Wakefield.

“The proposal I sent to DPTI (Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure), our local MP, and the state transport minister after the community meeting last year at Port Wakefield was to put in an overpass south of Port Wakefield and bypass all of the Augusta Highway traffic on an alignment that followed Berno Road that would meet up with the existing Augusta Highway near the Primo site.

“The YP traffic would still go into Port Wakefield and anyone travelling north could still divert into Port Wakefield for fuel or a rest stop,” Nick said.

“This proposal would have had a few benefits – firstly, it takes the heavy transport out of the town; secondly, the majority of the project could have been built without impacting the existing traffic flows, with no need for any upgrades to the current road going through Port Wakefield; and lastly the crash corner intersection would be realigned back to the original flow before the corner was installed.

“The existing highway between Primo and crash corner would become the northern access road from Augusta Highway into Port Wakefield, and there could also be an overpass over the Balaklava/Bowmans Road which would allow heavy vehicles from Bowmans to divert around the town,” he said.

It all makes sense in what should be a win-win for locals, tourists and truckies alike – local businesses retain tourist traffic, locals would not have to travel on what is now basically proposed as a town roundabout for daily chores, and all vehicles can continue heading north uninterrupted on the highway, but with the option of slipping into Port Wakefield should they desire.

With plans changing from a suggested large roundabout at crash corner to dual lanes and an overpass, Nick’s concerns centre mainly around the traffic flow for northbound traffic coming from Bowmans and Balaklava and heading for the Yorke Peninsula and Mid North.

“Bowmans is a destination for a number of agricultural commodities including cereal grains, pulses and hay, with three companies located there that deal with these commodities, Viterra, AGT Foods and Balco, along with Gilmac at Balaklava.

“Recently there has been a change in the size of trucks allowing a two-trailer road train to be used to transport these commodities which has allowed for greater transport efficiencies.

Nick said due to the recent drought on the east coast, there had also been a change in some of the delivery paths for grain.

“With higher domestic prices for grain, many farmers (some with road trains) last year delivered to Viterra’s rail sites such as Snowtown and Bowmans to access the domestic buyers rather than ports such as Wallaroo and Port Giles.

“This increased the number of trucks accessing these sites and, as we go forward, it looks like domestic buyers will continue to use these sites to accumulate grain when needed.”

Looking at the proposed plan, there seems to be a distance of about 200 metres between the Balaklava/Bowmans intersection and the start of the right-hand turn lane that will take these trucks into the northbound lanes.

“That means trucks will have to cross two lanes within 200 metres, and once they get there, the right turn lane seems to have enough room only for three road trains,” Nick said.

“But this means if there are any more than three road trains waiting to turn right, the right-hand lane of the dual (southern bound) lane will be blocked for through traffic reducing the flow of traffic.

“I have also been made aware road houses will be able to be accessed from the south bound lane, with one such exit from the Liberty being between the Balaklava road and the right hand turn lane.

“What is to stop cars from using this as an alternative right hand turn lane, especially if trucks are backed up at the intersection? The presenters told me there is nothing to stop this traffic at the moment.

“Once a truck gets to the front of the queue to turn right, it will need to cross both lanes of northbound traffic to make that turn due to the limited visibility a truck driver has to his left, especially in a truck with a sleeper cab.

“Personally, as a truck driver, I would pull up at 90 degrees to the intersection so that I could see all traffic coming from my left before turning right, and once I start that turn, I would probably take up the two lanes of traffic during that turning procedure before finishing up in the left hand northbound lane.”

At one of the information sessions, Nick asked the presenters if they had ever driven a truck before to understand his concerns – to which the answer was no.

So what will happen on long weekends or peak holiday periods when traffic rises from around 8800 vehicles per day to 16,000?

“A lot of traffic on the highway at these times is generally from the city, many who are not used to dealing with heavy vehicles and the limited manoeuvrability  they have, and I believe that at these times during a busy harvest, we will see long queues of trucks waiting to turn north at this intersection.”

Not only will there be a bottleneck at that corner, a number of school buses run from Port Wakefield to Balaklava each weekday.

“Once students are on the bus in the morning, under the proposed plan, the buses need to go north until they get to the slip lane that takes them into the southbound highway lanes,” Nick said.

“Once they are in the slip lane, they need to merge to their left into the right hand southbound lane in the same way traffic currently does at what we locals affectionately call ‘crash corner’.

“Once in that lane, they will need to get into the left hand lane before turning left to Balaklava, and being on the ‘blind side’ for the driver, I believe this creates issues of safety and puts these students at a higher risk of traffic accidents than currently exists,” Nick said.

Crash corner is another concern, and although there is plenty of room there for a huge roundabout, a DPTI spokesperson said that design ‘is not considered practical due to the size of a roundabout required to safely accommodate road train traffic in the high-speed environment.

“In addition, a roundabout is likely to cause congestion on the National Land Transport Network, in comparison to the overpass solution, resulting in delay frustrations for motorists,” the spokesperson said.

“The construction of the overpass provides the preferred solution to address the history of crashes at crash corner as it eliminates turning vehicles having to cross in front of oncoming traffic at this location.”

However it appears the traffic congestion and possible safety issues will be ‘moved’ into Port Wakefield and along the Copper Coast highway instead.

From the concept plans, it appears those vehicles coming from the overpass around to Copper Coast will enter that traffic stream via their ‘blind side,’ which is unsuitable especially for large trucks.

A DPTI spokesperson said they are continuing to investigate further enhancements to the project’s design, including providing an extension to the existing overtaking lane for motorists travelling on the Port Wakefield Highway onto the Copper Coast Highway.

“This will ensure traffic from the overpass can safely merge,” they said.

With all of the roads and U-turns, the concept plan is, for all intents and purposes, a poorly designed roundabout with no give way to the right rules – we’ve had too many accidents at crash corner – we don’t need any more.

“I believe there are better alternatives to this current proposal that will increase traffic flows rather than the restrictions and safety issues this proposal provides.”

“If the future proposal for Highway One is to run a dual lane through to Port Augusta, this proposed design offers little more than a dual lane bottleneck through Port Wakefield with inadequate intersections to allow for access from major side roads,” Nick said.

“I can understand the fear by businesses if some traffic bypasses the town centre, with possible lower numbers of vehicles or income, but I think it’s unfounded,” Nick said.

“I think the town will still thrive – it’s still halfway between Adelaide and the Copper Coast so is a logical stopping place – maybe more people might actually prefer not to have to deal with large trucks through the town.”

“It could probably also increase business for the town as more people may stop there on long weekends if the highway wasn’t as busy and they didn’t have to worry about merging back into the traffic to head home.”

“I just hope the plans are reviewed thoroughly and changed before works start properly – let’s get it right from the start.”