Incident puts barriers in the spotlight again

It was a tight squeeze, even with hydraulic lifting, when this wide load had to pass a broken-down bus on the Princes Highway past Stratford last week.
It was a tight squeeze, even with hydraulic lifting, when this wide load had to pass a broken-down bus on the Princes Highway past Stratford last week.

AN incident that brought traffic to a standstill between Stratford to Bairnsdale last week has reignited calls for centre barriers to be removed on some sections of the Princes Highway.

Traffic was held up for more than half an hour on Monday morning when a bus parked in the emergency lane blocked a wide vehicle carrying a pre-fabricated house.

Despite the bus driver parking the broken-down bus as far off the road as possible, the 4.5 metrewide load was initially unable to pass until its hydraulic trailer was able to lift it clear of the barriers.

The driver of the truck's escort vehicle, Ray Akers, said traffic quickly banked up, but would have been stuck for hours longer had the trailer not had hydraulic capacity.

He said the accident highlighted that centre road barriers were not suitable or practical for single-lane roads.

Mr Akers said wide loads often used the Princes Highway, with trailers regularly taking pre-fabricated houses from a factory in Stratford to sites around Australia.

"It's not hard to see that there are places where these centre road barriers don't belong," he said.

"I use that section of the road almost daily, and I see a lot of wide vehicles that could block an entire lane."

Regional Roads Victoria's safe system road infrastructure program director, Scott Lawrence, said it was looking at installing more pull-over areas, and would be increasing the break in barriers at driveways to provide easier access to properties and improve visibility.

But he ruled out removing the installed centre road barriers.

The Princes Highway between Stratford and Bairnsdale has been identified as one of the highest risk roads in the state.

Mr Lawrence said to reduce the likelihood of serious and fatal crashes, RRV installed flexible safety barriers, which were proven to reduce the likelihood of fatal crashes by up to 85 per cent.

"This centreline barrier is installed with regular breaks to ensure vehicles have access to the other lane where needed, such as in an emergency," he said.

At minimum, there is a break in the centreline barrier every kilometre.

Ms Lawrence said when a driver needed to pull over where flexible centreline safety barriers were installed, every effort was made to provide sufficient space for other vehicles to pass with a minimum distance between centre and left side barriers of seven metres - the equivalent of two freeway lanes.

However, he said in the event of an oversized vehicle such as a 3.5m-wide truck being involved this was not always possible, as was the case on many single lane roads.

"Along this section of the Princes Highway we have taken into consideration the community's feedback and the results of a thorough risk assessment - including the past crash history of the road - and are installing the remaining left-hand-side barrier in high-risk areas only.

"This will involve installing barriers where there are roadside hazards, such as clusters of trees, to prevent run-off-road crashes.

"We're also looking at installing more pull-over areas, and we'll be increasing the break in barriers at driveways to provide easier access to properties and improve visibility.

"These changes strike a balance between the community's feedback and improving safety."

The Princes Highway between Sale and Bairnsdale was previously one of the highest-risk roads in the state, with five people killed and 17 seriously injured in the five years to 2015.

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