Bull says road barriers project is ‘a mess’

GIPPSLAND East MLA Tim Bull has described the roadside and centre of the road wire rope barriers project on the Princes Highway as “a mess” which is “still being figured out on the run”.

The barriers will be installed on the highway between Sale and Bairnsdale.

Mr Bull said as recently as last week, senior Country Fire Authority staff were expressing “major concerns” about their ability to get to fires and assist at road accidents because of the traffic congestion caused by the barriers.

“VicRoads has been heavily promoting the road safety benefits in its messaging and communications strategy for this project, and I do not argue that it won’t reduce road trauma, but there are other considerations in this as well that have simply not been considered through lack of consultation,” Mr Bull said.

He said Roads and Road Safety Minister Luke Donnellan had refused his suggestion to halt the works while discussions were held.

“He has advised me that VicRoads held a workshop with the East Gippsland Shire in October 2017, and plans to hold a similar workshop with Wellington Shire next month.

“He also advises that VicRoads is currently seeking advice in relation to the requirements for landing a helicopter air ambulance.

“I will continue to liaise with his office in the hope that these concerns can be resolved.”

Mr Bull said the project was “a mess”.

“It is still being figured out on the run,” he said.

But Roads and Road Safety Minister Luke Donnellan said there was “absolutely no doubt” that the flexible safety barriers would save lives on the Princes Highway.

“It’s disgraceful that Tim Bull and the Nationals continue to try to score grubby political points on this vital road safety project,” he added.

Mr Donnellan said the barriers have been shown to reduce head-on and run-off-road crashes by as much as 85 per cent.

Mr Bull also said community consultation regarding the barriers had been inadequate.

“There was no opportunity for local input into its initial design, and there is a continuing unwillingness to pause the project for long enough for its shortcomings to be fixed,” he said.

Mr Bull said he had received no answers to a question he asked late last year of Mr Donnellan in State Parliament about the public consultation that took place in east Gippsland before the project was announced in May 2016.

He said apart from a little known online survey in October 2016, there was no opportunity for road users in East Gippsland to have input to the project until August 2017, when the decisions had already been made.

Mr Bull said the same applied to the Paynesville Rd and Sale-Maffra Rd projects.

“The Andrews government’s communications and stakeholder relations officers have been busily talking up the roadside and centre of the road barriers projects, but when they belatedly gave the community a chance to have a real say, they have just brushed off their concerns, because it’s going ahead no matter what road users and emergency services are saying,” Mr Bull said.

Mr Donnellan disagreed, saying VicRoads had consulted extensively regarding the upgrades on the Princes Highway between Sale and Bairnsdale.

He said in October 2016 it sought online feedback from the community, which was taken into account into the early designs and in May 2017 a detailed update was distributed to the community outlining the proposed safety treatments for the highway and encouraging more feedback.

In June last year Mr Donnellan said VicRoads door-knocked residents along Princes Highway between Sale and Bairnsdale to listen to their thoughts about how the highway could be made safer.

In August and September last year he said community information sessions were held in Stratford, Lindenow and Bairnsdale, to provide information about designs, provide information and gather feedback.

In September, Mr Donnellan said advertisements were placed encouraging the community to email or phone in feedback about the project.

He said there had been ongoing meetings with regional and state emergency management planning committees, including the CFA, State Emergency Service, ambulance and police.

“VicRoads is also designing safer intersections along the highway in response to community concerns,” he added.

About one kilometre of the Princes Highway has already been fitted with the flexible barriers, near Bengworden Rd, VicRoads saying it will provide the community and emergency services with an opportunity to experience what it will be like driving on the highway once the safety upgrade is complete.

VicRoads safe system road infrastructure program director Bryan Sherritt said VicRoads was asking for feedback on the stretch of centre road barrier recently installed between Stratford and Sale.

“We’ll then take this feedback into account as we finalise the flexible barrier designs for the remainder of the Princes Highway East safety upgrade,” he said.

Before final designs are developed, residents and emergency services personnel are being asked to share their views by phoning 0468 314 107, or by emailing engage.ssrip@roads.vic.gov.au, by next Friday, February 2.