THE federal Coalition has pledged to start $50 million worth of restoration works on the Great Ocean Road before Christmas if it wins at the September 7 poll.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday announced $25 million for the crumbling road, which will be matched by the state government as part of a five-year plan to revive the tourism drawcard.
The funding windfall will further strengthen Liberal Corangamite candidate Sarah Hender-son’s campaign against sitting Labor MP Darren Cheeseman, who holds the electorate by just a 0.3 per cent margin.
About 100 kilometres of the road runs through the Wannon electorate that includes the iconic Twelve Apostles, but most of the campaign has been aimed squarely at Corangamite where yesterday’s announcement was made in Anglesea.
Speaking to The Standard, Wannon MP Dan Tehan guaranteed his electorate would benefit from the funding deal and denied it was pitched solely to marginal Corangamite voters.
“We’ve got 100 kilometres of the 250-kilometre Great Ocean Road in Wannon and I’ll be ensuring that we get our fair share,” Mr Tehan said.
“This is an election commitment we have made.
“I can’t see any reason why work could not start before Christmas.”
Mr Tehan said the funding would apply from Torquay to Warrnambool.
Around seven million tourists travel the road each year.
The Victorian government’s allocation of $3.5 million has not been enough to stop regular rock falls and potholes.
Parts of the road east of Port Campbell remain closed due to a landslip that blocked traffic last week.
A single lane has been opened to slow traffic but it could take VicRoads up to a month before it is cleared.
Peterborough Great Ocean Road Tourist Park owner Dean Hellessey knows the worn patches of the road well.
“We drive from Peterborough to Warr-nambool and parts of the road are not acceptable,” he said.
“The amount of traffic on the Great Ocean Road is considerable, $50 million sounds great, but it’s a small amount compared to what’s needed for the entire south-west region.”
G21 Geelong Region Alliance has been the key orchestrator behind the campaign.
Chief executive Elaine Carbines welcomed the news, but said the funding would not reduce congestion during busy summer months.
“It’s not going to fix that — the campaign has never claimed it will fix the congestion issue. It will improve surfaces of the road facing deterioration,” Ms Carbines said.
The regional body is now calling for federal Labor to match the deal.
“They have completely dismissed it as a state issue ... but there’s still time,” she said.
Corangamite Shire mayor Chris O’Connor said the council would be “watching quite closely” to see where and how the money is spent if the Coalition wins.
But there is a question mark on whether the spending guidelines would solve parking problems at the Twelve Apostles.
“During that period there’s cars spilling out on to the roadway and it can be quite a dangerous stretch,” Cr O’Connor said.
Local Polwarth MP and Roads Minister Terry Mulder said his department was unable to handle the Great Ocean Road on its own.
“We’ve put money into maintaining the road but what it needs is major rehabilitation. There are some sections of the road that will have to be completely rehabilitated and put it back in a state whereby that road will then carry us to 2050 and beyond,” Mr Mulder said.