HANN Highway Action Group chairman Russell Lethbridge was one of the happiest people thumbing through the 192-page northern Australia white paper last Friday.
The blueprint document for future northern development listed the unsealed 90-kilometre stretch of the highway between Hughenden and The Lynd as one of the priority projects to be considered in the $600 million committed to roads over five years.
It follows the Prime Minister's words in May, when in Cairns he confirmed "that as part of the white paper, there will be a significant upgrade of the Hann Highway, which is one of the very important routes here in northern Queensland, an important route if northern development is to become a reality".
Mr Abbott said it built on the $100m announced in Rockhampton for a national beef road system in northern Australia.
Mr Lethbridge said he was now "extremely confident" of the funding becoming a reality.
"This is better than forward estimates; this is a commitment," he said. "It looks like the money will be in the banks of the two local shires (Flinders and Etheridge) on July 1, 2017."
He understood money would also be available for the remaining 33km of unsealed road on the Aramac-Torrens Road, which is the shortest route for freight between Cairns and Melbourne.
The push for the Hann Highway to be sealed has been a 12-year marathon that saw unusual multi-party agreement as to its necessity.
It culminated in a regional roads forum in Hughenden in March.
Community leaders, transport operators, tourism spokesmen and CSIRO scientists alike presented an overwhelming case for a maximum investment of $100m on the important linkage road that cuts off nearly 600km and over eight hours on the Cairns-Melbourne trip.
According to a study presented by CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Andrew Higgins, sealing the remaining 105km of the 260km highway would have saved about 5800 hours for an estimated 6500 road trains using the route between 2007 and 2011, and would have cut out 1000 driver fatigue stops. CSIRO estimates an extra 1250 road trains would use the highway if it were fully sealed.
Mr Lethbridge said the support of groups such as Advance Cairns had been beneficial to the action group's argument. "We can all see this is not just about a few cattle but it's about developing north Australia.
"This is an idea that's come of age. People have realised you can't build anything else unless you've got the road to start with.
"Irrigation prospects, all sorts of things, are all dependent on the Hann. It's not the last sort of development we need but it's been proven categorically that it's instrumental to regional development."
Hughenden Chamber of Commerce president Les Carter said local resources, machinery and workforce were available to build the missing link of bitumen within three years, once funding was available.