SOUTH-WEST mayors have turned up the heat on the federal government, calling for the Princes Highway to gain special national status sooner rather than later.
The region’s council lobby group — Great South Coast Group — is seeking reassurance the section of highway between Colac and the state border will be declared part of the Roads of National Importance (RONI) network.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott committed to recognising the thoroughfare as part of the network while in opposition three years ago and also said his government would investigate public-private partnerships (PPP) to fund potential duplication.
Corangamite Shire mayor Chris O’Connor said national status was afforded to Princes Highway east from Melbourne to Sale, despite the Gippsland city being significantly smaller than Warrnambool.
Cr O’Connor met with federal Transport Minister Warren Truss last month and said he felt the federal government was attempting to put the highway redesignation on the backburner.
“We had a good meeting, (Mr Truss) was generous with his time but he made a few comments that provided more questions than answers,” Cr O’Connor said.
“There’s Auslink status (the former name for the RONI program) between Waurn Ponds and Colac which has led to that section of highway being duplicated.
“Warren Truss didn’t provide a clear-cut yes or no about whether Tony Abbott’s pledge to extend the Auslink status beyond Colac would be met any time soon.
“What the concern might be is that once the duplication process is completed in Colac, there’ll be no federal funding beyond that point despite the majority of Geelong-Colac traffic continuing along the highway towards Warrnambool.”
Warrnambool mayor Michael Neoh backed up Cr O’Connor’s comments and said national recognition was an asset when attempting to secure funding.
“It is possible to achieve funding without Auslink but it would give us a strong advantage if we did gain that status,” Mr Neoh said.
Mr Abbott made the RONI commitment in June 2011, stating “the Coalition has already announced a policy to upgrade the highway from Winchelsea to Colac but it needs to go beyond Colac as soon as possible”.
Wannon MP Dan Tehan said the process towards RONI status was likely to be determined by the end of the calendar year, adding that south-west Victoria had a strong case.
He said the RONI redesignation of the Princes Highway would result in an 80-20 funding contribution, with the federal government contributing the majority share. At present, the highway is a sole state responsibility.
“We had a very good discussion with Minister Truss and the process now leads on to the Victorian government making their submission,” Mr Tehan said.
“There is real hope, real hope that this could be achieved and the minister has seen firsthand the case for the Princes Highway after visiting the Sungold Field Days earlier this year.”
Victoria’s RONI network includes all major highways emanating from Melbourne.