CONTRACTS have been awarded for construction of the final two stretches of the Princes Highway duplication between Traralgon and Sale, with hopes works will begin soon.
Earlier this week, a government spokesperson confirmed to the Gippsland Times early works on the remaining two sections of the duplication project - at Kilmany and Flynn - were set to get underway "within months".
The project will be delivered through a trio of construction partners, including Whelans Group Investments (based in Bairnsdale), Laing O'Rourke and BildGroup.
The remaining two sections at Flynn and Kilmany will add an extra 12 kilometres of lanes in each direction.
The duplicated highway will include a range of safety improvements, such as wider shoulders and a centre median with flexible safety barriers, to reduce the risk of run-off road and head-on crashes.
The works will improve local road and private access to the highway, including a service road in Kilmany, and six intersections will be upgraded to include turning lanes.
The overpass at Kilmany will be replaced with a road-under-rail solution.
Major Road Projects Victoria is managing construction of the final two sections.
The works are anticipated to begin from the middle of this year - but the exact start date remains unclear.
The final stage of the project is expected to create more than 100 jobs, with flow-on benefits for 160 workers in the civil construction industry.
Deputy Prime Minister and federal Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack said the project would result in better connections and a safer road, while supporting hundreds of jobs.
"Ensuring the Princes Highway East is fully duplicated between Traralgon and Sale will not only mean significant safety benefits to the Gippsland community, but it will also increase the employment and connectivity of the region," he said.
State Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said once complete, the project improvements would "create a safer journey to around 15,000 motorists who use the road each day travelling between Traralgon and Sale".
Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said the upgraded highway, which was a key link to a range of Gippsland tourist destinations including the snowfields and Gippsland Lakes, would provide a safer travel experience for holidaymakers and help the region's tourism trade recover.
"The final part of the upgrade will make travel safer for day-trippers and holidaymakers, helping the region to recover from the devastating bushfires, through a much-needed increase in tourism," Ms Shing said.
Eastern Victoria MLC Jane Garrett said not only was it great to see the project a step closer to commencement, but it was also great to see the way the project would be delivered - "with more opportunities provided for local jobs".
"Our new approach to delivering these projects not only means we see vital projects like this delivered sooner - but more opportunities for local construction companies to access the project, providing the opportunity to deliver more jobs at a time our community needs it most," Ms Garrett said.
Prior to the contracts announcement, Gippsland MHR Darren Chester urged the state government to get construction underway as soon as possible, as Gippslanders grew increasingly worried by unexplained delays.
Mr Chester reported people were telling him, "we will believe it, when we see it".
It has now been more than a decade since the project began in 2010.
While 31 kilometres have already been upgraded, the project stalled in 2018, when the state government effectively considered the duplication done and dusted.
Despite the project consisting of 11 sections, the state government marked "all nine sections" as completed in the budget and government literature, ignoring the final stretches at Kilmany and Flynn.
The federal government allocated $132 million to finish the state-owned road in its 2018 and 2019 budgets - based on state government cost estimates - but in November 2019, state
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said the federal government's contribution "wasn't enough" to finish the project.
After years of community pressure, the state government announced it would provide its share of funding nearly 10 months ago, about $50 million, to finish the final two sections by 2024.
The federal government jointly committed $202.6 million.
The highway duplication was the subject of a 2019 Gippsland TimesApril Fools Day article which reported that local farmers had grown so tired of waiting for works to be completed, they were taking matters into their own hands and doing the work themselves.