29 August 2017

Victorian Government must urgently intervene to ensure Princes Highway duplication remains on track

The Victorian Government must urgently intervene in a planning dispute to ensure the duplication of the Princes Highway between Winchelsea and Colac remains on track.

The Turnbull government is proudly providing $185.5m for 50 per cent of the cost of the duplication which is capped funding, meaning that any potential cost overrun is the responsibility of the State Government.

This project is vital for road safety, jobs and for south-west Victoria.  I have fought passionately for Princes Highway duplication for the past eight years.

A 15 kilometre section of the road, between Warncoort and Armytage Rd, is under threat of running up to 12 months behind schedule.

That’s because plans by road construction contractor BMD to source clean clay for the road base from land adjacent to the highway, known as “borrow pits”, have ended up in VCAT.

Unless 200,000 cubic metres of clay can be sourced locally within a matter of weeks, the costs of the project will blow out by an estimated $6 million.  A total of 400,000 cubic metres of clay is required for this section of road which, if not sourced locally, could mean a budget blowout of $12 million.

The Victorian Government must ensure this extra funding is available, if required, to avoid any delay during the critical summer months when much of the road construction is scheduled to take place.

Under these circumstances, it is misleading for Vicroads to state publicly that the project is on time and on budget.

While Colac Otway Shire granted BMD a planning permit to excavate clay from the borrow pits, this has been appealed by MCG Quarries which is attempting to establish a quarry on Mooleric Road, north of Birregurra.

BMD could immediately apply to VCAT for an urgent hearing on the basis that this is a project of “state significance.”

The Victorian Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, also has the option to intervene. Under the Victorian Planning and Environment Act, he could amend the relevant planning scheme without notice to remove the requirement for a planning permit.  He also has the option to “call in” the planning dispute and grant BMD a planning permit for the extraction of clay from the borrow pits.

I am concerned that the Planning Minister and the Victorian Roads Minister, Luke Donellan, are sitting on their hands.  The Victorian Government is responsible for this project which must be completed on time and on budget by mid-2019.

While this dispute must be urgently resolved, significant progress is being made by construction crews along the Princes Highway.

Construction continues on the 11.5km first section between Winchelsea and Armytage Road.  One side of a 6.5km section is already completed and open to traffic.

Construction on the 15km second stage between Armytage Road and Warncoort is also well underway with concrete being poured and retaining walls erected for two new bridges at Warncoort.  Bridge beams are being constructed off site in preparation for their installation in October. The twin bridges will replace a level crossing and enable the speed limit on that section of the highway to be raised from 80 km/h to 100 km/h.

The contract for the Warncoort to Colac East third section is expected to be awarded over the coming months.

29 August 2017