Claims Princes Highway work in limbo

Road maintenance failing to keep pace with usage

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ROAD WOES: Princes Highway Action Alliance spokesperson Stephen Lucas, said there had been a number of federal funding announcements, totalling $140 million, in the last two years.

ROAD WOES: Princes Highway Action Alliance spokesperson Stephen Lucas, said there had been a number of federal funding announcements, totalling $140 million, in the last two years.

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A western Victorian lobby group has claimed maintenance work on the Princes Highway is in limbo.

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Work on improving a 300 kilometre stretch of the western Princes Highway, is being held up by a wrangle between the federal and state governments, according to the head of regional roads lobby group.

Princes Highway Action Alliance spokesperson Stephen Lucas, said there had been a number of federal funding announcements, totalling $140 million, in the last two years.

"But no money has flowed and no work has been done," Mr Lucas, who is also Warrnambool Bus lines managing director, said.

"As I understand it, the federal government is unable to reach agreement with the state, which has the job of carrying out the works.

"The convention is that the state puts in 20 per cent of the amount required."

The PHWAA is an alliance between the Warrnambool, Moyne Corangamite and Colac-Otway councils.

Mr Lucas said the federal government had announced a variety of batches of funding.

"It does get a bit confusing, because of the myriad of announcements, but none of the work, as yet, has been started."

Mr Lucas said the federal money was intended to cover an intersection at Colac, passing lanes between Warrnambool and Port Fairy and around the Stoney Rises, between Colac and Camperdown.

That section also required bridge strengthening works.

"It's very frustrating, what it means is the south west of the state is being neglected when it comes to road improvements on the Princes Highway," Mr Lucas said.

The alliance had estimated $300 million was required over the next four years for much needed road infrastructure works on the 297km stretch of the highway.

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In the lead-up the the May 2019 Federal Election, Wannon Liberal MP Dan Tehan announced $60 million for upgrades to the Princes Highway, between Warrnambool and Port Fairy.

He also announced $80 million for roads of strategic importance which include the Princes Highway, Henty Highway and Portland-Casterton and Portland-Nelson Roads. The State Government was expected to chip in $28 million.

"Given the nature of what's occurring in the south-west, we have got more and more specific with determining where the money would be spent because we want to make sure it actually goes into the road that the community are telling us need investing in," Mr Tehan said.

Tyrendarra dairy farmer Bruce Knowles said there was hardly any evidence of work being done, on the Princes Highway from Warrnambool to the border.

"It's all quiet on the western front," Mr Knowles said.

"It's getting quite dangerous, there are areas between Port Fairy and Yambuk that are quite undulating.

"It's a real busy road, it's extraordinary, really, there is a lot of heavy traffic goes through three."

Chris O'Keefe, Warrnambool, said there was some work happening, between Terang and Allansford and toward Camperdown.

"They are doing quite extensive upgrades and renovation," Mr O'Keefe said.

"But there is nothing happening west of Warrnambool."

"The federal government offered money to upgrade it, but the state government won't match it."

Failure to upgrade the roads would meant they would deteriorate more quickly.

"If they did the work now, it would cost a lot less money to have them in a good condition, than if they leave them."

A state government spokesman said Victoria and the commonwealth were finalising arrangements to progress joint funding along the Princes Highway West and the Princes Highway East.

Wet spring

Horsham Rural City Council mayor and grain grower Councillor Robyn Gulline, Longernong, said a wet spring had compounded problems, in the region.

"We are continuously looking for funding, from various levels of government for us to continue to maintain our roads to the standard to which our community deserves," Cr Gulline said.

"We must maintain our vehicles to a roadworthy standard, so we need the government to provide roads that ensure their longevity.

"Regional Roads Victoria has received more funding, than before, but it has to spread over the entire area of regional Victoria."

Cr Gulline said the soil structure of the region meant roads did not have the lifespan of those in other parts of the state.

"We repairing and upgrading them on a much more regular basis," she said.

'That's just the reality of living on grey, cracking clay soils.

"It's great for crops, but not so great for roads - you can't have it both ways."

Municipal roads tended to degrade over time, particularly during a large harvest.

"Most of the grain receival sites had record intakes, plus a lot of grain has been stored on farm," she said.

"The use of B-Doubles, A-Doubles and A-Triples and many other combinations means less trucks on the road, but it has an impact, whether it's from more wheels or heavier weights."

Meanwhile, the Victorian Farmers Federation says more funding is needed to ensure Victoria's crumbling regional road and rail freight infrastructure can cope with future increased freight as this season's bumper grain harvest highlights the network's shortfalls.

VFF Grains Group President Ashley Fraser said a recent ABARES report forecast this season's harvest, at 9.3 million tonnes, would be one of the largest the industry has ever seen.

"We're expecting the second largest grain harvest in Victoria's history," Mr Fraser said.

"While this is a fantastic result for growers and our regional economy, it will no doubt put immense pressure on our already strained regional road and rail freight networks as it goes from paddock to market."

He said regional roads continued to crumble and freight trains were crawling to port, at a huge cost to the industry.

"Our freight rail network is critically under-maintained and urgently needed Murray Basin Rail Project is already two years overdue," Mr Fraser said.

Mr Fraser said investment in rail freight was essential to get trucks off roads and reduce Victoria's future road maintenance and upgrade bill.

"On certain sections of track, trains have been reduced to a maximum speed of 20km per hour," he said.

"Time is money and many operators have made the decision to transport produce on our roads.

"This is forcing more trucks onto the roads, with the potential for 10,000 B-double trucks of grain using the roads each month."

The VFF called on the government to plan now, to ensure this year's budget invested in regional Victorian freight infrastructure and plans for the future.

Funding transfer

Calder Highway Improvement Committee chair Councillor David Pollard said that route was in a good condition, as it was a road of national importance.

Cr Pollard, of Buloke Shire, said the authorities were "on top of it pretty well.

"Because of the importance, and characteristics of the road, it's got to be maintained to a higher standard than the others," Mr Pollard said.

"But the money has to come from somewhere."

He said he was concerned about the introduction of A-Doubles, on the Calder, south of Charlton.

"They are currently allowed to Charlton, by permit, but they are going to be even harder to overtake than B-Doubles," he said.

"We have to keep working with the government on improving opportunities to overtake the larger trucks."

An A-double is any heavy vehicle combination featuring a prime mover towing two semi-trailers that are connected to each other by a converter dolly.

They can be as long as 36.5 metres, but are generally around 34m.

Cr Pollard said the biggest issue was B and C class roads.

A roads were high standard, single carriageway, B roads were sealed, and wide enough for two traffic lanes and C roads were also two lanes, with shoulders.

"Because the funding has been going into A class roads, rather than the smaller ones, as they break down they are more inclined to put on a speed restriction, rather than fix the issue."

He said that had been done on the Donald-Swan Hill road.

"Regional Roads Victoria is in a very difficult place, because of lack of funding," he said

"The road network is gradually deteriorating, and they are struggling with the funds they have got to maintain all their networks to a satisfactory standard."

Maintenance blitz

Meanwhile, the state government said Victoria's 2021 road maintenance season was now underway, with crews upgrading 2,000km of roads, filling an estimated 220,000 potholes and repairing or replacing more than 30,000 signs.

In regional Victoria, parts of the Henty Highway in western Victoria, the Northern Highway near Echuca and the Hume Freeway in the north-east were all being upgraded.

The Princes and South Gippsland highways in Gippsland and the Hamilton Highway in the south-west would also receive major investment.

Victorian Roads Minister Ben Carroll, said the maintenance blitz would deliver upgrades to important local and tourist roads, as well as to some of Victoria's key freight routes which carried high volumes of heavy vehicles each day.

The bulk of the road maintenance work was being delivered during the summer months, when weather conditions were best for road construction.

This year's upgrades are being funded as part of the State Government's $653 million investment in road maintenance in the Victorian Budget 2019/20.

A further $411 million was set aside in last year's budget.

Some of the projects included in the budget were:

  • $10 million for upgrades to sections of the Robinvale - Sea Lake Road to improve safety for motorists and the efficiency of freight in this part of northern Victoria.
  • $241 million to duplicate the Princes Highway East between Traralgon and Sale at the Flynn and Kilmany locations.
  • $4 million for safety improvements for motorists on the Henty Highway between Horsham and Lascelles.
  • $255 million for improvements to the Great Ocean Road and surrounds.

Gippsland funding

Gippsland federal National Party MP Darren Chester said there would be record road funding, for local projects, during the next two years.

Mr Chester said the commonwealth was partnering with other levels of government to deliver road and bridge projects worth more than $300 million in the coming months.

"From the next stage of the Princes Highway duplication, through to major arterial road safety projects and local road black spots, we are going to see a lot of construction activity across Gippsland over the next two years," said Mr Chester.

"The federal government is providing up to 80 per cent of the funding for many projects and the challenge for the state government and local shires is to deliver everything on time and on budget.

"Projects like the duplication of the highway between Traralgon and Sale, sealing the last stage of the Bonang Road and the ongoing transformation of the Lakes Entrance esplanade are all good for local jobs and attracting visitors to our region."

Roads to Recovery and the Bridges Renewal program were helping local councils improve transport routes, across Gippsland.

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