THE state’s peak motoring body says lives are at risk on the Princes Highway unless $25 million is spent on urgently upgrading dismal parts of the road barely meeting national standards.
Up to 146 injuries and deaths on the highway will be avoided if safety measures, including more median strips, skid resistance and barriers are installed, according to the RACV.
The RACV has doubts on whether the highway duplication between Colac and Winchelsea will go ahead under the first term of a Coalition government, which it says is yet to match Labor’s $257.5 million commitment.
RACV roads and traffic manager Dave Jones said there were also concerns Labor would take its time with the project.
If the project is shelved, the RACV wants $25 million spent immediately to install barriers around power poles close to the freeway and reduce other hazards.
“If there’s a delay or it stop, they need to spend that $25 million — it will save lives,” Mr Jones said.
“RACV estimates that investing in improvements could save at least 146 people from serious injury or death on the Princes Freeway/Highway from Melbourne to Colac over the next 20 years.
“The Princes Highway west is one of the state’s key routes connecting regional communities such Geelong and Colac, with Warrnambool and Portland further along the route and the highway carries a large volume of freight, commuter and tourism traffic.”
Parts of the highway around Geelong have an acclaimed five-star top rating but the section near Colac has been given just a two-star grading.
The RACV is calling for all highways to be lifted to a minimum three-star rating.
Mr Jones also warned the upgrade of the Great Ocean Road shouldn’t be done at the expense of the Princes Highway. “The Great Ocean Road certainly needs the investment. However, it doesn’t remove the need for spending on safety projects and committing to continue the duplication along the Princes Highway west to Colac,” he said.
The ailing highway lies at the heart of the ultra-marginal seat of Corangamite, which is being bitterly fought over by Labor MP Darren Cheeseman and Liberal candidate Sarah Henderson.
Mr Cheeseman told The Standard Labor had budgeted $257.5 million for the upgrade.
“We’ve got the money in the budget,” Mr Cheeseman said of the funding.
Federal Labor is deeply concerned that an Abbott government will cut that funding.
“We’re ready to deliver it.”
He echoed comments from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that the Coalition would sweep in spending cuts, that would include the duplication.
Ms Henderson did not return calls from The Standard yesterday.
Last week she announced $25 million for the Great Ocean Road.
The duplication of the highway was a cornerstone of her 2010 campaign.
Colac Otway Shire mayor Lyn Russell said the RACV’s claims were confusing and said site inspections had already begun for the duplication that has “bipartisan support”.
“Our understanding is that by 2017 we’ll be able to drive on a duplicated highway from Colac all the way to Melbourne,” Cr Russell said, saying both sides had given support.
“I’m not sure where the RACV are getting those claims from.”
Meanwhile, VicRoads is still exploring options for a third sharing lane from Colac through to the South Australian border that could be alternated between traffic.
Mr Jones said the RACV wanted to see the concept go ahead.
“We’re convinced it’s a good idea for roads where duplications can’t be done or when there isn’t enough money,” he said.
“The two for one is a proven treatment internationally and will save lives.”