STRATFORD residents turned out in large numbers to have their say on proposed safety upgrades on the Princes Highway at the Stratford Mechanics Hall on Wednesday night.
A rumoured angled parking proposal on Stratford’s main street was instantly dismissed by VicRoads representatives, to the relief of business owners.
A roundabout at the Avon River bridge, next to McAlister St, was one of VicRoads’ proposals, as well as reducing the speed limit through the town to 50km/h.
Residents also wanted more caravan and large vehicle parking, and to keep the dual lane treatment.
The centreline wire rope barrier proposal for the highway between Stratford and Bairnsdale was met with an angry response from emergency services and motorbike riders, though the staff patiently responded to the criticisms, saying it was a rare opportunity to upgrade the highway.
The road would be widened to accommodate the wire barrier, and there would be a wider shoulder, with provision for trucks to turn around.
Consultation with landowners and emergency services would determine where breaks in the barrier would occur.
Funding for the project, which will also include resurfacing, is provided by the TAC as part of its Towards Zero program, encouraging a holistic approach to road safety.
Towards Zero’s Safe System Road Infrastructure Program director, Bryan Sherritt, said it was a genuine consultation.
“The information we get tonight will actually inform the design, make it better, make it work, and make it safe,” he said.
“With the design, we’re starting with some roadworks, some widening, which is always a good thing, but the design is eminently adjustable, you can make changes and move things if they aren’t right.”
Mr Sherritt said there was data to show wire rope barriers would save lives, and had led to an 85 per cent reduction in the accident rate on roads where they were installed.
“This is about stopping the crashes, and managing the energy in crashes — when your car hits that wire rope barrier, the barrier takes the energy out of the car and stops your vehicle,” he said.
“We see a lot of hits in places around the state, and we don’t know who’s hit them because they’ve driven away, that’s a great sign — you don’t want them to hit a tree, roll over, hit another vehicle — the barriers will stop you, and that’s a great outcome.”
While he understood motorcyclists were vulnerable around barriers, he said there was no evidence that wire rope barriers were more dangerous than any others, though there were barriers with ‘rub-rails’ that could help.
“There’s no evidence to say it’s more dangerous than any other type of barrier, the whole myth about the cheesecutter thing is that the wires will cut you — there’s no evidence to say that’s the case at all, we know the posts are more dangerous to motorcyclists, they’re a rigid thing,” he said.
Members from local emergency services expressed their concerns with the plans, hoping for more engagement before the plans were finalised.
The CFA’s District 10 operations manager Allan Rankin said he was keen to take the opportunity to engage with the project and work through a range of scenarios.
“It’s unfortunate some consultation could have occurred earlier but didn’t,” he said.
“Now there’s an opportunity to sit down and have conversations, and input local knowledge to the team.”
Mr Rankin said he was concerned that other roads may be affected during construction, or if there were delays during peak holiday periods.
“A volume of traffic that may look to exit the Princes Highway and go through other local roads in order to get around it, hopefully they’re getting them up to a standard for heavy traffic,” he said.
“If what they’re doing is trying to minimise road trauma, what we don’t want to do is transfer it from one road to another through a lack of awareness.”
Mr Sherritt said he and his team would try to engage all stakeholders.
“I know some of our friends in the emergency services are concerned about not being able to get to an accident fast enough to save a life, that’s a genuine concern and I acknowledge that, but we think they can do it, it’s a matter of working through that,” he said.
“We’re hoping accidents would be far less regular.”
The Towards Zero team will return to Stratford for another consultation session in the next few months, Mr Sherritt added.
“We need to come back to the community, say to them we’ve spoken to you and this is what we’ve heard, this is what we’ve learned from you, then this is what we’re going to change, and these are the things we won’t change, and why,” he said.
Work will soon begin on widening the highway east of Sale, providing a wider centreline to the Bengworden Rd.