Flames leap metres above the Country Plaza Motor Inn on Nebo Road after a truck crashed into gas bottles in 2009. Picture: Amanda Balmer

Nebo Rd motel fire sparked ember of ring road idea

5th September 2020 5:06 AM
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FORGED in the wake of a burning Nebo Road motel, the Mackay Ring Road now carves its way through cane paddocks and across the Pioneer River.

Stage one of the project which diverts traffic from the Bruce Highway at Stockroute Rod to the Bald Hill Rd intersection north of Mackay pulls large freight and heavy mine vehicles away from the centre of town.

Plans for the development of a ring road in Mackay date back more than a decade.

 

23/01/2019: Federal Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with the local candidate for Dawson, Belinda Hassan, framed by shovels and boots,,talk to workers on the new ring road construction on the outskirts of Mackay, QLD. Shorten is traveling on the bus to North QLD stopping along the way to campaign for the upcoming Federal election. Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian
23/01/2019: Federal Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with the local candidate for Dawson, Belinda Hassan, framed by shovels and boots,,talk to workers on the new ring road construction on the outskirts of Mackay, QLD. Shorten is traveling on the bus to North QLD stopping along the way to campaign for the upcoming Federal election. Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian

Daily Mercury archives show the first mention of the plan was on June 27, 2008 when then Mayor Col Meng said he would speak to visiting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd about "ring-roading some areas, such as Nebo Road and Ron Camm Bridge, to get traffic out of the city".

Since that first story, the Daily Mercury chronicled the road closely, watching meetings, funding promises and holding those responsible to account.

Dawson MP and former Mackay Regional councillor George Christensen spoke about the road in his maiden speech to federal parliament in 2010 and told the country's leaders "we need a solid commitment from the government to the important Mackay Ring Road project"

Speaking with the Daily Mercury, Mr Christensen said a prime mover that crossed the path of oncoming traffic and ploughed into gas cylinders outside a Nebo Rd motel and restaurant on July 21, 2009 was the "impetus" to fight for the road.

Amanda Balmer

"It certainly has been a long road," Mr Christensen said.

"People may not recall but a while back we had a Mackay sugar truck that actually ploughed into the side of a motel on Nebo Rd, hit some gas canisters and there was a huge explosion.

"It was really lucky that no one died but it highlighted what a number of people had been saying … that we needed to get the heavy vehicles out of Nebo Rd."

 

Mr Christensen credited former Mayor Col Meng and TMR Regional Director Ian Husbands as driving forces that helped secure the road.

Mr Meng served in the city's top civic job between 2008 and 2012.

He said he spent a lot of that time courting politicians to secure funding for the road. Nowadays, despite being out of politics for almost a decade Mr Meng says he drives past the site about once a month to watch its progress.

"It was always a concern to me," Mr Meng said. "I just kept thinking that one of these days a fuel tanker is going to run into someone or we will have a massive fire.

"I am sure the other politicians like Christensen and Tim Mulherin would tell that all we ever did was talk about these things - I would have to say we hunted as a pack because we all believed it was a very important part of the Mackay region."

 

 

Stage 1 of the Mackay Ring Road is almost complete. Picture: Department of Transport and Main Roads
Stage 1 of the Mackay Ring Road is almost complete. Picture: Department of Transport and Main Roads

 

Although the road is an icon of progress to most, the monolithic structure sits as a looming reminder of loss for others.

In August 2016, privately-owned land required to build the road was formally gazetted and landowners were forced to sell their farms and homes to make way for the road.

Multinational company CPB Contractors was awarded the main construction contract for the road after the only two tenders with a Mackay presence were dumped from the shortlist.

Work on the project broke ground on September 28, 2017.

State and federal governments jointly funded the project with the Australian Government putting in the lions share of the estimated $497.3 million cost.

 

April 2019: Progress continues on the construction of the Mackay Ring Road.
April 2019: Progress continues on the construction of the Mackay Ring Road.

 

In a statement to media, Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the road supported 534 jobs with more than 1200 local workers inducted on the project over its lifetime.

Although he is happy to see the road come to fruition, Mr Christensen said without the Walkerston Bypass or the Port Access Road (stage two of the Mackay Ring Road), the project was not complete.

The conservative provocateur even donned lycra and lip synched to Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies - Put a Ring on It' to lock in funding for the second stage.

"We need stage two to actually make the thing a ring," he said.

 

George Christensen MP does Beyonce Put a ring on it to gain funding for the Mackay Ring Road project
George Christensen MP does Beyonce Put a ring on it to gain funding for the Mackay Ring Road project

 

"The real productivity benefits for our region are going to happen when we have stage two done in concert with the Walkerston bypass.

"It all links together."

George Christensen Put a Ring Road on it: George Christensen will do whatever it takes to secure funding for Mackay Ring Road Stage 2
George Christensen Put a Ring Road on it: George Christensen will do whatever it takes to secure funding for Mackay Ring Road Stage 2

Mr Christensen said both sides of politics had committed funds to the next stage but there was no indication when the State Government project would begin.

 

 

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Timeline so far:

J uly 26, 2010: Federal Labor pledges $10 million for the planning of the Mackay Ring Road.

July 28, 2010: Federal Liberal National Coalition pledges $30 million for the planning and design of the Mackay Ring Road.

May 14, 2013: No future allocation for Mackay Ring Road in Gillard Labor Government's last budget.

September 2013: The $10 million for ring road planning exhausted. The fact that no further funding was allocated to the project in the 2013-14 year meant that the project was stalled more than six months.

May 13, 2014: $448 million allocated in federal Liberal National Government's first budget to complete design and build of $565 million Mackay Ring Road Stage 1.

November 13, 2014: Tenders called for detailed design work of Mackay Ring Road.

March 11, 2015: AECOM announced as successful tenderer for design work.

 

Two large bridge girders were taken to the Mackay Ring Road site on Thursday, February 13 2020. They are understood to be some of the last major pieces of infrastructure required at the site. Picture: Ashley Pillhofer
Two large bridge girders were taken to the Mackay Ring Road site on Thursday, February 13 2020. They are understood to be some of the last major pieces of infrastructure required at the site. Picture: Ashley Pillhofer

 

 

April 19, 2016: The Labor State Government say the detailed design work is going to take another six months to complete.

August 2016: Privately-owned land required to build the road is formally gazetted.

September 17, 2016: Stage one works announced to begin in four weeks.

February 2017: The road is recognised as one of the most significant projects to be undertaken in the nation over the next 15 years. That is the verdict of the independent infrastructure adviser Infrastructure Australia.

August 2017: The Mackay Ring Road project reaches a major milestone, with CPB Contractors announced as the successful tender to build Stage 1 of the project.

September 28, 2017: Work starts on Mackay's largest ever road infrastructure project with the first sod officially turned on the Mackay Ring Road project.

Keith Ryan surveys the damage after a truck ploughed into his motel on Nebo Road in 2009, sparking the ring road push.
Keith Ryan surveys the damage after a truck ploughed into his motel on Nebo Road in 2009, sparking the ring road push. Amanda Balmer

February 2018: The new Pioneer River crossing is under construction. This is a new 670-metre-long structure, and the largest of the 13 bridges and overpasses on the project.

June 2018: George Christensen begins the "Put A Ring Road on it" campaign for funding of Stage Two (or the Mackay Port Access Road).

December 2018: Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack joins George Christensen in Mackay to announce a funding commitment of $280m to complete the Mackay Ring Road stage two.

January 2018: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten promises to match $280m Ring Road funding if Labor wins 2019 Federal Election

 

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey inspect the progress of the Mackay Ring Road.
Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey inspect the progress of the Mackay Ring Road.

 

June 11, 2020: Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert announces the project is 96 per cent done.

July 8, 2020: Transport and Main Roads Minister opens nominations and asks the community to help name the four bridges and other infrastructure on the road.