Victorian farming community protests ‘dangerous’ road after speed limit dropped


Updated

October 03, 2019 11:49:00

A small Victorian community says the state’s productive farming regions are being starved of vital infrastructure funding, as it bands together to call for a major upgrade of a critical transport route that has been left to crumble.

Key points:

  • Robinvale-Sea Lake Road speed limit dropped from 100 to 80 kph because of road’s condition
  • Protesters feel region’s booming agricultural production not recognised by the State Government
  • Local MP says road needs a “sweeping upgrade” and repairs to bring it up to scratch

Although the State Government has announced a $2.9-million upgrade of the road, the local community is calling for a fully reconstructed road, estimated to cost between $20 and $30 million.

Manangatang’s official population is just 309 — of that, about 200 people rallied in the town last week, angered by a sudden speed-limit reduction triggered by the deterioration of the road.

The Robinvale-Sea Lake Road has retained a C-class classification with unsealed shoulders.

This is despite its role as a vital freight route for Melbourne-bound produce from the booming agricultural areas in the state’s north-west.

The narrow road forced heavy vehicles and school buses to drive on the unsealed shoulders to avoid oncoming vehicles and locals have feared erosion could become a fatal hazard.

“If you try and pull off a road with a six-inch [15-centimetre] drop off the bitumen into the edge of the road and onto the gravel, it doesn’t take much more to pull you a little bit further and it is dangerous,” said Peter Thompson, a Manangatang farmer and Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) grains councillor.

“We’ve replaced about six or eight windscreens over the last 10 years in our vehicles and that’s just another cost which we have to bear.”

VicRoads road classifications:

  • M roads: Divided carriageways, four traffic lanes, sealed shoulders and line marking easily visible in all weather conditions
  • A roads: High standard of driving conditions on a single carriageway
  • B roads: Sealed roads wide enough for two traffic lines, with good centre line and edge line marking, shoulders and a high standard of guidepost delineation
  • C roads: Generally two-lane sealed roads with shoulders

*Source: VicRoads

Mr Thompson’s family has farmed in the Manangatang area since 1913 and he said he had never previously heard of a rally in the town as big as last week’s.

The protest attracted local teachers, school bus drivers and farmers, as well as councillors and community leaders from the nearby centres of Swan Hill and Robinvale.

“The system needs to change,” Mr Thompson said.

“The way the money is distributed and the process, it needs to be an even spread across the state.

“Everybody who pays their taxes and lives in this state needs to be supported.”

‘We’re Victorians too’

The state of the road was described at the rally as being a matter of “fairness and equity”.

Bill Moar, a Swan Hill councillor, said the region’s inability to attract the government funding required to fully seal and widen the road showed the value of the area’s contribution to the state’s output was not being recognised.

“When it comes to taking, the border stops at the Murray River, South Australia, and the ocean,” he said.

“When it comes to giving, where’s the border? The border is at Melton and Digger’s Rest [outer Melbourne] and at best, it might even get to Bendigo and Ballarat.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES), in 2015-16 the gross value produced by the 409 agricultural businesses in the Swan Hill region — which included the sheep and wheat community of Manangatang — was $754 million.

Robinvale, the fertile irrigation district on the Murray River at the northern end of the road, produced a further $157 million in gross agricultural product.

The district was at the centre of booming horticultural production with nut plantations continuing to expand.

Mr Moar said the region’s total economic contribution to the state could rise above $3 billion, telling those at the rally: “We undersell ourselves at every corner”.

An unexpected outcome

The protest was sparked after Regional Roads Victoria (RRV) suddenly dropped the road’s speed limit last month by 20 kilometres per hour — rather than providing funding for it to be fully sealed and widened along its length.

Manangatang VFF branch treasurer, Christine Plant, said the speed limit change would not improve safety and made the town vulnerable.

“We heard from a local freight operator and he estimates the cost per tonne will go up by $2 but there’s a lot of other consequences,” she said.

“When we get people over from Swan Hill — tradespeople, people working on machinery and so on — their costs will potentially go up too because they’ve got people sitting in their vehicle a lot longer.”

RRV’s northern regional director, Brian Westley, said keeping people safe was “first priority”.

“At times we may need to temporarily reduce a speed limit to increase safety until improvement works can be completed and we don’t make that decision lightly,” he said.

This week, the Government confirmed $2.9 million would be spent upgrading the road, including rebuilding shoulders between Bannerton and south of Chinkapook, and reconstructing sections further south at Cocamba and Lake Tyrrell.

The 100kph speed limit is expected to be restored after it’s done but independent state MP Ali Cupper said the works were “just basic maintenance” on a road that “was built in the ’50s”.

“It’s not the full scope of works that we need to make this the sort of road you’d want to be driving on in a first world country,” Ms Cupper said.

The Victorian Opposition promised to spend $3.65 million widening the road and sealing its shoulders during its unsuccessful state election campaign last November.

Ms Cupper said improving the state of the road became a priority for her after she won the seat of Mildura.

She said she took the new Minister for Roads, Road Safety and the Transport Accident Commission, Jaala Pulford, for a drive on the road after taking office.

But Ms Cupper conceded the community “wasn’t expecting the response to be to reduce the speed limit” when she brought the deteriorating road to the Minister’s attention.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea of the condition of that road, a pretty contemporary sense of it,” Ms Pulford told the ABC last month.

“Yes we will have some work to do there — there’s no doubt about that.”

‘A significant human rights issue’

Ms Cupper said a “general sweeping upgrade” to bring the road to the standard required by the community was estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million.

The Victorian Government will spend $331.6 million on its overall maintenance program for regional roads this year.

According to RRV, 296 vehicles use the Robinvale-Sea Lake Road daily, 16 per cent of which are heavy vehicles, and Ms Cupper said a recount may help the case.

It is not just an agricultural boom that underpins increased use of the road.

Renewable energy companies have swooped in to take advantage of north-west Victoria’s ample sunlight resources.

New solar farms have been built and have been in development in the Mildura, Swan Hill and Balranald council areas.

“You can spend billions and billions on Melbourne level crossing removal projects, the metro tunnel, and removing flammable cladding,” Ms Plant said.

“Then why can’t you find the dollars required to fix our road to make it safe for our community?”

Ms Cupper said the community’s plea for roads funding coincided with major delays to the Murray Basin Rail Project, a $440-million upgrade of the north-west Victorian freight network, which was originally meant to be completed last year.

“This is a significant human rights issue but it’s also an economic issue which impacts the entire state,” she said.

“So the showing here [at the protest], which shocked even me, is a sign of the depth of that desperation and concern.

“If we wait for five or 10 years, it’s not as if the road’s going to be cheaper to fix; it’s not as if the rail is going to be cheaper to standardise.”

Topics:

road-transport,

community-and-society,

community-development,

regional,

agricultural-crops,

agribusiness,

road,

federal—state-issues,

government-and-politics,

local-government,

manangatang-3546,

robinvale-3549,

diggers-rest-3427,

balranald-2715,

melton-3337,

swan-hill-3585,

sea-lake-3533,

ballarat-3350,

bendigo-3550,

mildura-3500

First posted

October 03, 2019 11:14:19



Source link

About the Author

Australia News
More Than 20 Years in News and jobs

Be the first to comment on "Victorian farming community protests ‘dangerous’ road after speed limit dropped"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*


%d bloggers like this: