The subsidiary to petroleum giant BP announced a $35 million investment into a new bitumen plant at Townsville port yesterday which will more than triple the current stocks of the vital commodity for road and tarmac construction.

About 18,000 tonnes of bitumen will be stored at extremely high temperatures in tanks at the port facility where construction has just begun.

BP spokeswoman Kathy Hirschfeld said the new facility would be capable of supplying 120,000 tonnes of bitumen a year – enough to develop and maintain nearly 4000km of road.

Demand for bitumen was expected to grow by 30 per cent in five years providing for planned road and airport developments.

BP’s current bitumen storage facility in Townsville has a capacity of just 500 tonnes.

”BP has been providing bitumen to support Queensland’s growth for decades and this investment in Townsville will ensure the large scale supply of bitumen essential to improving vital transport routes that secure the prosperity of industry, business and community in north and northwest Queensland,” she said.

”Townsville has become a critical link for nearly every industry in the region and is without doubt the right place for BP to invest to deliver this region’s bitumen needs efficiently and cost effectively.”

More than 200 jobs will be created during construction.

When it is fully commissioned in 2011-12, the facility will employ six people.

BP will import paving grade bitumen from refineries in Asia including Singapore and Thailand to Townsville.

Polymer modified grades designed for special applications such as high stress and wear will be mixed at the new facility.

Premier Anna Bligh, who launched work on the facility yesterday, said the State Government’s North Queensland roads program, its commitment to the northwest minerals province and its $18 billion works programs triggered BP Australia’s investment.

Main Roads Minister and Thuringowa MP Craig Wallace said $1.7 billion was expected to be spent on State and Federal road projects over the next four years from Mackay to Cairns and west to Mount Isa.

”This plant will play a vital role in helping to meet the North’s road maintenance and expansion needs,” Mr Wallace said.

Ms Bligh said the project showed the confidence that a big player like BP had in the region.