Simpson Desert to be sealed by 2035?
The Department for Central Australia Investment is investigating the feasibility of sealing the Simpson Desert from Mt Dare to Birdsville as part of a 15-year strategic plan, according to leaked documents.
[April Fools] A CONFIDENTIAL STUDY has been leaked to Practical Motoring revealing that the Australian government is planning to open up tourism into Central Australia by offering better road access to remote areas. High up on the priority list, according to the study, is what’s being called, “travel-fluid Australia”. It’s explained as the concept of “opening up Australia to all Australians, not just those with special vehicles such as RVs, dirt bikes and 4x4s”.
The report points to the success of the progressive sealing of the Cape York Development Road. The consultants calculate a net positive return on investment: “Monte Carlo analysis indicates returns in the order of 20% per-annum on restratified basis, and the 15-year NPV projections are likely to deliver a Moire-Bechdel 35% return compounding, once the Development Road is converted to a two-lane freeway by 2030”.
The report applies the same logic to converting the Simpson Desert French Line to a two-wheel drive and motorhome-accessible dirt road, but the report doesn’t have the final return-on-investment calculations. Nevertheless, those who have been crossing the Simpson for a while will have noticed the increasingly long stretches of bitumen from Birdsville to Big Red, so it seems work has been under way for a while.
So why bother with the Simpson? Two reasons, according to the study. First is the “travel-fluid” policy which states there should be no discrimination based on your preferred mode of travel, be that bicycle or 4×4 and, second, is using better roads to make living in remote areas more attractive, reversing the long-term migration from the bush to the cities. That was also a driver behind the NBN.
So you’ve got questions, yes? You’re not the only one. It seems that one reviewer of the study has raised concerns about 4×4 access, as Appendix D, “External Key Stakeholder Engagement and Interaction Log”, contains this: “The whole point of the Simpson is that it’s an adventure. Take that away and who would want to do it? Can’t we better spend the money on grants for adventure operators?”
According to our source, “The existing French Line will be converted first to gravel, then to bitumen, working off the existing clay caps. For those people wishing to drive a 4×4 in the old way we will create a parallel sand track 10-15 metres away from the gravel road. In this way, the challenge of crossing the Simpson’s dunes remains, and safety is improved as at any time the 4x4s can leave the sand track and travel on the dirt road. As there have been issues with head-on collisions, we will make the sand track one-way from Birdsville to Mt Dare, and to reduce the impact on vegetation the steeper dunes will have permanent sand ladders installed as the message of ‘lower your tyre pressures’ has not been understood or followed by the public. The other Simpson tracks will be closed to permit re-vegetation and in the interests of public safety. The increasing camel population will be kept away from the road by a ‘camel proof fence’.
“In addition, the existing sand driving course at Oodandatta will be expanded so 4×4 owners can enjoy their sand driving in a safe, controlled environment rather than the remote and unsafe harshness of the desert. Permits for this course will be inexpensive and the associated three-stage sand driving courses can be taken at any accredited 4×4 training provider. There will also be camel rides, allowing the public to see camels in a safe and controlled manner rather than risky interactions with wild animals.
“We appreciate that a small minority of the public enjoys the Simpson the way it is, but under our policy of Governing for All we must put the needs of the majority ahead of the minority and open up this beautiful area for all Australians, foster private investment, and consider the safety of the Australian public. Our government is there is make the hard calls about what’s best for the public, despite their objections, and we make no apology for keeping Australia safe. We’ve done the research and risk assessment, this is the best way forwards.
“As a bonus to the public, the new road will also be open all year round, once appropriate rest stops and hazard-management signage have been built along the way,” our source said.
There is much work to do according to our source, including an national advertising campaign. We expect the next leak of documents will arrive in late March 2019, ready for another story on April 1, 2019.