A response from the Minister for Transport & why the MRWA community consultation process is flawed

Since the start of our campaign, SASTR has been seeking a meeting with the Minister for Transport, Rita Saffioti, but to no avail. However, our local MPs have been more helpful and in particular, Mr Shane Love our MLA member was able to put some questions raised by SASTR to the Minister at recent Budget Estimates. The questions and full responses from the Minister and her advisor can be found below (from Hansard, report of the proceedings).

The overall reply from the Minister to our concerns was:

“Main Roads Western Australia has received strong support for the project from large sections of the community, including the Shire of Toodyay, due to the pressing need for safety improvement on Toodyay Road. As such, the agency will continue to progress project development activities and proceed with the works as per the current plans”

Our response to two of the Minister’s points:

…including the Shire of Toodyay…
Since 2015, the Toodyay shire council has been replaced. The current members have certainly voiced their own concerns of the environmental impact at a recent shire meeting, not to mention support for saving our emblematic 420-year-old powderbark wandoo tree.

…received strong support for the project from large sections of the community…
SASTR queries the strength of community support mentioned by the Minister, given that it has never been quantified, especially now there are increasing concerns about our impact on the environment, not just in Western Australia, but globally.

Of course the public want a safe road and upgrades to make it so,  but did they want the environmental destruction that comes with them?

We have a combined total of 2500 signatures for our legislative council and online petitions and along with our survey results, there is resounding proof of community concern for the environment.

Community involvement

What is A Community Reference Group (CRG)?

A Community Reference Group (CRG) is a key mechanism for involving community members and stakeholders in MRWA projects. MRWA state that “we work closely with our stakeholders and the community to deliver outcomes that are sustainable, and mutually beneficial wherever possible.”

Key SASTR committee members are on the CRG for Toodyay Road improvements. Back in 2015 when the community met at the Toodyay Memorial Hall to discuss the need for Toodyay Road improvements, we asked for some overtaking lanes, some places to stop and intersections to be improved. MRWA went away and came back with their designs. They then applied for clearing permits and then, in June 2017, the first of the Community Reference Group (CRG) meetings commenced.

We are at odds with how the maps showing road improvements were presented to the community. The maps were projected on a screen and the paper versions also provided were way too small. As a result, it was impossible to see any detail and fully comprehend the scale of the changes. This is not a suitable way of conveying and getting adequate feedback about major and destructive changes to the environment.

To add insult to injury, a video shown to the group, used to promote travel along Toodyay Road after improvements, lacks true representation of the vegetation with utterly no environmental detail. This is presumably to support the fantasy provided in another presentation to the CRG which showed how getting to Toodyay 10 mins faster would generate hundreds of thousands of dollars. Needless to say, the presentation had nothing to say about the value of the environment.

As SASTR has repeatedly stated, CRG meetings are flawed in the way they are constituted and do not allow for genuine community input into the development of the designs. For example, when the CRG group for Toodyay Road met in February 2021, a large number of people came to protest about the level of clearing that had taken place east of Jingaling Brook Road as MRWA commenced roadworks.

It is of some significance to us that a previously planned CRG was cancelled just prior to the commencement of this clearing. Despite being too late, many people wanted to express their views about what they saw as excessive environmental damage, but no one was allowed to speak at the meeting. So much for “community reference”.

We believe, that at a minimum, the CRG process should include:

  • large, clear maps with keys, with details and measurements that are in a language that is accessible to the general public.
  • discussion centred around environmental impact and be clear and honest about what will be lost.
  • a walk-through of the sites with members of the community where they are shown, not just the proposed changes and improvements to the road but also, what will be cleared as part of the road engineering planned by MRWA (there seems to be no willingness on the part of MRWA to do this with Toodyay Road).
  • full-day workshops to be mandatory, as per Caves Road improvements community engagement.
  • suggestions to evaluate progress before and after each stage.
  • re-evaluation of latest road crash data and monitor driver speed and behaviour.
  • evaluation of what the work that is already completed has achieved.

It seems that the CRG process is one to basically rubber-stamp the MRWA’s design and support the MRWA objectives. When the public does not have adequate input into the process it is unfair and shows a poor attitude to community concerns.

Finsihed roadworks at Jingaling brook
Recently finished roadworks near Jingaling Brook Road intersection

The end result, as evidenced by the Jingling Brook roadworks (seen above), is not “beautiful” as indicated below by the Minister, but a vastly over-engineered design that looks more like an airstrip than a road. When applied along the entire Wheatbelt section of the road, there will be clearing of over 50 ha of native vegetation including old-growth trees and priority plants, destroying the beauty of a wonderful tourist road and costing over $3 million dollars per km and at an insurmountable environmental cost.

Suffice to say, those of us on the CRG who are concerned about maintaining a safe and scenic Toodyay and protecting environmental values are disillusioned with the whole process, and if SASTR can accomplish anything, it will certainly be a win if we can influence change in such processes.

Uncorrected Hansard from Budget Estimates

22 Sept 2021

Mr R.S. LOVE

I refer to page 613 and the Toodyay Road upgrade. There is $80 million set aside for that upgrade, and a lot of that money is pushed well out, of course, because there is a process to go through. I have been contacted by a number of constituents. I am going to put their views to the minister and take the opportunity to ask the minister directly, with Main Roads here, to answer the questions that they are seeking to have answered. These constituents have seen the development of Toodyay Road on the metropolitan side of the road. The minister will understand that the road is half metro and half wheatbelt. Recent work has been done on Toodyay Road to the east of Jingaling Brook Road, and it is a very high standard road. The finished product is reminiscent of Great Northern Highway. The constituents are concerned that that confirms that there is an underlying agenda for Toodyay Road to be a heavy haulage route into the future. They ask three questions. The first question they ask the minister is: if the major stated intention of improvements to Toodyay Road is road safety, which could be achieved through sealing the shoulders and placing rumble strips, why is the engineering that has already been completed for the Jingaling Brook Road section and is planned for other sections of a similar standard to that of major highways, at a much greater cost and with minimal improvement to road safety when compared with sealed shoulders and rumble strips? That is the first of the three questions they would like to put to the minister.

Ms R. SAFFIOTI:

I remember going to the Shire of Toodyay to a meeting in the council offices, and maybe someone can recall what year it was—2019—at which it was forcefully put to me that we needed to get more money for Toodyay Road, and why had we not asked the commonwealth for enough. I took that away and I thought that the community and the Shire of Toodyay wanted a significant investment in Toodyay Road. The other issue is the real safety concerns. Again, Mr Snook, Mr Woronzow and Mr Cameron, who is not here, and the Road Safety Commission have talked to me about the safety concerns on Toodyay Road. A Wheatbelt highway safety review in 2015 identified Toodyay Road as having a significant killed-and-seriously injured crash density. I have to say that since being elected, a number of people have put to me that Indian Ocean Drive and Toodyay Road both have significant ongoing safety issues. We invested a lot into Indian Ocean Drive and continue to do that. Toodyay Road was put to me as a road that has a number of issues. It is not only the seal issue—the seal has a narrow width and is substandard—but also the road geometry and the curves. Those issues cannot be adequately addressed by just resealing the road. When driving on that road, we can see the bit that has been done, and it is beautiful. That part of the road feels very safe. Other parts of that road do not feel as safe. That is why we put this forward as a priority. I think it was part of the member for Pearce’s former electorate, or on the border—I cannot remember—but I think Hon Christian Porter was keen, as well as another federal member whom I cannot remember. Honestly, it was quite an aggressive discussion with the Shire of Toodyay, which said, “Why aren’t you doing more for our road?” That is why I went in to bat for this road, because I felt—what is the word—that we had not done enough to improve the safety, and I wanted to try to do that. That is why we secured the money. We know that the volume of commuter traffic will continue to grow in this area, and also that Toodyay and the whole area continues to have wider aspirations for further tourism and other development, and that is why we put it forward. Also, I think the Road Safety Commission identified Toodyay Road in a number of its analyses as a major priority. As I said, we have tried to improve the safety where we can, and we have realigned some parts, but to really help address the longer term safety issues, it is also about the geometry and, as I understand, some of the curves.

Mr R.S. LOVE:

I thank the minister. The second question from these constituents is: if the intention is to turn Toodyay Road into a major highway, what is the plan when the traffic gets to the outskirts of Toodyay? There is no real alternative to travelling through the middle of town, where there are many pedestrians, on a 40-kilometre speed route, and there is no major heavy haulage route to speak of through Toodyay.

Ms R. SAFFIOTI:

I think the preface of the member’s question was about whether we want to make it into a major freight route. We are saying that it was identified as a major safety issue. The Shire of Toodyay said that it was a massive priority and that we needed to get more funding, and I worked with the commonwealth government to get more funding.

<041> D/A

[4.40 pm]

I was surprised by some of the commentary. Very rarely do shires say, “You have to get more funding because the community wants more funding” and then when I get more funding, they say, “We don’t want that much funding because it looks like you’re taking this road too seriously.” I do not quite understand that. It is to address the safety issues and to make the road a better road to travel on and to make the connections into Toodyay better. I think it is a good project. I do not know; do people not want us to spend that money? That would be an odd thing to do, because this is about making the road safer. I think I saw it in media commentary or in the member’s commentary. People are criticising us because we are going to do too good a job of upgrading the road. I do not quite get it.

Mr R.S. LOVE:

As an alternative to heavy traffic coming in so close to Toodyay and given that alternative routes are being considered, like EastLink WA et cetera, are there other ways to funnel that sort of traffic onto Great Eastern Highway rather than on the local roads?

Ms R. SAFFIOTI:

I am not sure. I do not think so. I have been advised that Toodyay Road is a 27.5 metre route and it will never go higher than that. The thrust of our improvements is to improve the safety of the road because it was earmarked as a major safety concern. I think I met with the Road Safety Commissioner and the Shire of Toodyay and it was impressed upon me that the amount of money we had allocated was not enough and that more money needed to be allocated to Toodyay Road, and that is why we sought further funding. Currently, about 12 per cent of the daily traffic is heavy vehicles. There are further developments across the whole area, so we want to make sure that the road is equipped for that.

Mr R.S. LOVE:

Can the minister outline whether the funding source is 80 per cent federal and 20 per cent state?

Ms R. SAFFIOTI:

It would be, yes.

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