Spanning over 1000 kilometres of red dirt through the heart of the country, the Tanami Road has been connecting Alice Springs to Halls Creek in Western Australia for decades.
- The Tanami Road has deteriorated to being “near undriveable”
- Trucking companies are losing upwards of thousands of dollars a week
- The Territory government says there is not enough funding
Today the famous beef road is a worn tapestry of what it once was and is regarded as nearly undriveable, costing trucking companies thousands of dollars in damages each week.
Bruce Stanes is a driver for Stanes Transport, delivering goods and services to the mines, cattle stations and Aboriginal communities along the track.
He says his recent trips have taken twice as long as they should, due to the poor condition of the road.
“Nearly every week there’s something falling off, bolts breaking and suspensions,” Mr Stanes said.
Red tape woes
It is not just trucking companies bearing the brunt of damages caused by the notorious track.
Mount Denison is a cattle station 326km from Alice Springs. Cattle trucks use the government access road that joins the Tanami to the Stuart Highway to cart their stock to market.
Robert Martin lives and works at Mount Denison. He said the same road was the access point to most of his property’s water bores and needed serious repairs.
For families and pastoral operations, such as those of the Martin family, there is a lot of red tape around getting their road to a driveable standard.
“We’ve got the machinery and skillset to do it but because it’s a government road we aren’t allowed to touch it,” Mr Martin said.
To get a grader to come out and work on the road is a lengthy process.
“You’ve got to wait for a road inspector to inspect the road and then wait for a grader to come out, which can be up to 8 months by that time the roads [have] changed,” Mr Martin said.
What’s in the bank?
The Northern Territory’s Minister of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Eva Lawler said she was aware of the condition of the road but pointed to a lack of funding as the main driver behind the limited road upgrades north-west of Yuendumu.
“The federal government allocated $200 million over 10 years to bituminising the Tanami, but we know that isn’t actually enough,” Ms Lawler said.
Of the $200 million committed to the Tanami Road, the federal government will contribute 80 per cent, with the Northern Territory government covering the remainder.
The federal government told ABC Rural the funding was part of a $2.95 billion commitment made in 2013 to transport infrastructure in the Northern Territory.
“We need the federal government to be at the table otherwise the roads in the Territory won’t get bituminised,” Ms Lawler said.
Driver’s health a concern
Despite the Northern Territory government’s promise for a further 60km past Yuendumu to be sealed, Mr Stanes said he had concerns for his drivers’ health over the long term.
“I can’t imagine you’d come out here and not be affected eventually … slow speeds and rough roads, it’d have to have some effect on drivers. I’m sure it does.”