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Infrastructure and Transport - Leith Overpass

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: Roads, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - I wanted to follow up on the Leith overpass issue. I am interested in what the genesis was for such a high-impact and arguably, completely over-engineered traffic solution. Our understanding is the Central Coast Council has confirmed in writing they used incorrect accident statistics in 2016 in a letter your predecessor as minister, Mr Hidding, when they were urging an overpass to be built to replace two dangerous intersections and that no deaths have occurred at either Leith intersection. Can you confirm that, minister?

Mr FERGUSON - I remember vividly a death at the intersection, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is information I have been provided by people who live in Leith.

Mr FERGUSON - I recall vividly my predecessor minister made the commitment on the overpass during a time where the community was more acutely aware of a recent death at that time, I am saying. I am providing advice I have been given.

The Department of State Growth obtains traffic crash statistic information from Tasmania Police who maintain a register of all recorded crashes. The information provided by Tasmania Police for the reported crashes for the last ten years at the Leith Road junction is: one fatal in 2017, a cyclist crash; three serious; two minor; and seven property damage crashes. The reported crashes for the last ten years at the Short Street junction are: two serious; two minor and three crashes with property damage only. That is the information which has been provided to me.

Mr SWAIN - That frequency of crashes is enough to get our focus and attention. We do not wait until there is a serious casualty or a death necessarily in looking at road treatments around the network. We look at evidence there is a problem or that the number of incidents is exceeding what is happening on other parts of the highway. That is the case at this juncture.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Swain. No-one would argue that there is a safety issue here. The debate is about the proposed engineering solution. I have been there and spoken to some of the residents. It is a bit like some of the other works, like the Perth bypass and that massive construction out near the airport. There is a tendency now by government to over-design and make big roads when perhaps something that's simpler, less obtrusive and more cost-efficient could be considered. What is the ultimate plan for the Leith overpass?

Mr FERGUSON - There is a non-negotiable for me. I am not prepared to allow the current situation to persist for very much longer. I don't have advice at this point about the feedback report from the consultation that has more recently occurred. I really look forward to that. It will fall to government to make a decision. I hope that members of this committee will back that decision, whatever it is, because it will be based on advice and evidence.

I know my words will be twisted, but these things can't be a popularity contest. They have to be on expert advice, which is informed by community feedback. That is how I intend to operate. What I hope we can find is a treatment that makes the community of Leith safer but the entire travelling public who use that stretch of the Bass Highway, which is a vital freight route.

I am interested in maintaining its freight and commuter efficiency and productivity, but I don't have a predetermined outcome in my mind, Ms O'Connor. I accept your point that you don't necessarily have to build the biggest infrastructure to get the safety outcome, but if that's what was required I would recommend it, but I don't have that advice.

Mr SWAIN - The Perth project is the only high-speed interchange in the system. It's on the part of the network where one highway transitions into another. It carries 70 per cent of our overall freight task. It is a treatment that would not be widely applied but is applied there because of the volume of traffic and the significance for freight efficiency. Similarly, at the airport we have looked at the commuter challenges around Hobart. As you would know, Sorell is a high-growth area, like Kingston. Those areas are being designed to deal with the growth that is anticipated over the next 20 years. They are significant solutions, I fully acknowledge that, but there is also a reason why those solutions have been identified.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, is there a new engineer in the department or has someone who has come from the mainland who really loves big road solutions? Since your predecessor Mr Hidding was in the job, road treatments have become very high visual impact on the landscape and the fabric of this island.

Mr FERGUSON - I don't have an answer for that. The answer Mr Swain has provided is very self-evident as to why the larger, more significant development was built to enable an at speed interchange between two major highways with 70 per cent of the state's freight task. I respect the department and our engineers and the contractors who delivered that asset.

Ms O'CONNOR - I think you are overdoing it.