90 minutes to be cut from Merriwa to Willow Tree trip

26 Sep 2016


The Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce said the Coalition Government is making sure heavy vehicles have safer and more efficient journeys through the Liverpool Plains with its investment of $5.4 million in an upgrade of the Merriwa to Willow Tree Road.


Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester said the upgrade will raise the tonnage limit on the existing road and address safety concerns on the route.


“This project will cut travel times by up to 90 minutes between Merriwa town centre and the Killara Feedlot near Quirindi, reducing costs for beef producers supplying markets in the Liverpool Plains area,” Mr Chester said.


“That means up to three hours less driving for our heavy vehicle operators which will reduce the potential for fatigue based accidents on rural roads.


“This project shows the Government’s commitment to help businesses deliver the jobs and growth regional Australians need through much-needed investment in transport infrastructure.”


Mr Joyce was on hand to inspect the location of planned works meeting up with members of the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains shire councils.


“Having a reliable and accessible freight road network is critically important for businesses in this part of the world,” Mr Joyce said.


“By the time this project is completed, the road’s load limit will be able to increase from 56 to 68 tonnes, which means more cattle and other loads can be shifted in fewer trips, which will help reduced costs for local businesses.


“The upgrade will also provide an alternative route in the case of closures on the Merriwa to Muswellbrook road, ensuring access is maintained to abattoirs at Scone, Whittingham and Kurri.”


Construction is expected to get underway next year, with completion due in 2019.


Liverpool Plains Shire Council [LPSC] Mayor, Cr Andrew Hope, LPSC Cr Doug Hawkins, Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen, LPSC Cr Virginia Black, Upper Hunter Shire Council Mayor Wayne Beddgood and the Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce at the junction of the New England Highway and the M385, the Willow Tree to Merriwa Road.


M386: The Willow Tree to Merriwa Road marked with a pink highlight


Project Name:  MR358 Upgrade Project

Project Funding: Total: $12,162,000

Australian Government Funding: $5,452,000

Project Status: In Planning

Key Dates: Construction is scheduled to commence: TBA 2017

Construction is scheduled to be completed: TBA 2019


Background briefing


The MR358 Upgrade Project is a collaborative project between the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains Shire Councils to upgrade Merriwa to Willow Tree Road to raise the tonnage limit, and address safety concerns. It includes widening and sealing of the road.


Upgrading the MR358 will reduce road transport costs for beef producers supplying markets in the Liverpool Plains area (feedlots at Killara and Caroona, saleyards at Gunnedah and Tamworth) and provide an alternative route to road closures on the Merriwa to Muswellbrook road, ensuring access to the abattoirs and saleyards at Scone, Whittingham and Kurri.


The upgrade of MR358 will decrease transport operating costs by;

reducing travel times by up to 1.5 hours (average from Merriwa town centre to Killara Feedlot);

reducing the distance on average from Merriwa town centre to Willow Tree Grain Silos of 88 kilometres return;

decreasing maintenance and tyre impacts as a result of sealing;

lessening driver fatigue through increased safety across the Liverpool Range;

ensuring all-weather access for both freight and residents; and

increasing the traffic flow of High Productivity Vehicles through the gazettal of B-Double access on the full length of the road.


The upgrade will link the MR358 to the Golden Highway and the New England Highway, and reduce the distances travelled. Currently, grain carriers using alternative routes such as the New England and Golden Highways travel an additional 88 kilometres on the round trip from Merriwa to Willow Tree Grain Silos.


Merriwa cattle producers currently transport cattle over a distance of 160 kilometres to Killara Feedlot. This would be reduced by around 50 kilometres once the project is completed.


In addition, through upgrading the MR358 to B-Double condition, this route could be used as an alternative route for the New England Highway between Scone & Willow Tree.


The 2007 average annual daily traffic count is 118 with 26 heavy vehicles including five B-Doubles. The freight volume is approximately 28,800 tonnes of grain (during the harvest) and 39,000 tonnes of livestock, with 1,440 and 2,164 heavy vehicle movements respectively each year. Upon completion of the upgrade, the load limit is expected to increase from 56 to 68 tonnes. Travel distances between Merriwa and Liverpool Shire Council will be shortened by 44 kilometres each way.


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