Works to fix highway

Sarah Luke

THE state government has confirmed works to improve the state of the Princes Highway between Sale and Stratford are set to go ahead in coming weeks, attributing some of the problems plaguing the newly-upgraded highway to “road bleeding”.

A government spokesperson told the Gippsland Times the road surface’s final seal would be applied later this year “when weather conditions are favourable”.

A short-term fix to improve the condition of the road is imminent, with crews arriving back on site “in coming weeks” to fix and reapply current line making between Sale and Stratford.

While barrier works on the section of road between Sale and Stratford were completed late last year, the final road shoulder sealing and associated road markings are still to be completed.

The government spokesperson said the road had suffered from “road bleeding” – a phenomenon that occurred during extreme heat, when the bitumen layer of the road rose above the stones and caused the surface to become soft and sticky.

Regional Roads Victoria responded to this by spreading a new thin layer of crushed rock over the affected area, to re-bind the road surface, while the final seal will be applied later this year when weather conditions are more favourable, to ensure durability in the long term.

The section of work from Sale to Stratford totalled about $8 million.

The spokesperson said the government had spent $51.5 million overall into safety upgrades on the Princes Highway between Sale and Bairnsdale, as part of the Towards Zero Action Plan.

“There’s no doubt the new flexible safety barriers on the Princes Highway between Sale and Stratford will save lives, by preventing people from running off the road or into oncoming traffic,” the spokesperson said.

However via social media, local motorists have voiced their dissatisfaction with the highway works, leaving a string of comments slamming its faults on a recent Gippsland Times Facebook post.

Some claimed the road was now in far worse shape than when work began on it, referring to it as “absolutely bungled”, “a disaster” and “a big accident waiting to happen”.

One commenter questioned whether residents were being punished for not being in a Labor seat.

Frustrated commuters detailed how the road had large patches of broken seal, pothole and uneven and worn surfaces.

Others pointed to the stretches of road which had no lines or faded old lines, which had resulted in confusion for motorists.

The Stratford-Maffra Rd intersection has been confounding motorists unfamiliar with the road, with many Stratford-bound drivers pulling into the turning lane in attempt to stay left, as faded arrows make it difficult to determine whether they are current or irrelevant road markings.

According to the Facebook comments, this has led to dangerous near accidents, particularly at night time – with cars travelling at full speed, not realising they were in a turning lane, nearly crashing into cars waiting to turn onto the highway from the Maffra-Stratford Rd.

“Do we have to wait for a fatality before something is done?” one commenter questioned.

Others have witnessed drivers travelling in the emergency lane, assuming the road is double lane because of old markings.

On some parts of the road, the old lines have a new shiny coating, so motorists are having difficulty determining the difference between road markings when driving into the sun.

The old rumble strip has not been removed, and sits in the lane where motorists are supposed to drive, with some drivers commenting they are constantly alarmed to be driving  over the strip when their vehicle is where it is supposed to be.

One frustrated commuter said he felt driving along the road  as now reduced to guesswork, and another said he spent more time trying to watch where to position the car on the road than watching what was happening ahead.

“Driving between Sale and Stratford at night is now confusing and frightening for the most familiar users of that road and the best of drivers,” one concerned motorist wrote.

“I can’t wait to see what the foggy weather, or rain does to add to the degree of difficulty in negotiating it.”

Multiple people commented they had been trapped behind slow-moving farm machinery for kilometres at a time, unable to pass because of new safety barriers.

Those transporting animals wrote the road was a nightmare for horse floats and cattle trucks, and panicked animals.

“When, for the love of god, will the relevant authorities listen to the locals and realise that we are a highly agricultural area and need the roads to reflect the various types of vehicles utilising the roads?” one frustrated local posted.

One commenter remarked that on the roads around Cann River there were no barriers, even though there were steep drops at the side, yet they had been put along the highway where the worst thing a driver could hit was a paddock.

Frustrated drivers reported using back roads to travel between Sale and Bairnsdale as the safer option, with one posting she took an alternative route from Sale to Stratford using Hagans and Airly Rd.

“It’s absolutely crazy that I (and my car tyres) feel a lot safer on a narrow little country road than on the highway,” she said.

Others said they had taken to Bengworden Rd to travel from Sale to Bairnsdale, which in turn has caused problems for local police, who are worried the detour could result in an increase in the number of accidents.

Police have described Bengworden Rd as a significantly higher risk road than the Princes Highway because of its inferior infrastructure, being narrower and windier with large trees close to the roadside, having more wildlife and no overtaking lanes.

Traffic along that road has increased substantially, and police have had to ramp up patrols on the road in an effort to improve safety.

In state parliament, Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull recently referred to the highway as something someone would expect to see in an episode of Keystone Cops, and that the uneven surface was “like being on the Batman Ride at Movie World”.

The Gippsland Times asked Roads Minister Jaala Pulford for comment on whether the highway met safety standards, and if there would be a review into its state, but none was forthcoming.