Less than half the overtaking lanes earmarked for the Princes Highway between Colac and the South Australian border during the past 19 years have actually been built.
A 15-year blueprint for the management and development of the highway west of Geelong, released in 2000, found there was a need for 21 overtaking lanes between Colac and the South Australian border.
Just 10 of them were built, although VicRoads says work will begin later this year on two new overtaking lanes near Weerite at a cost of $6.4 million.
The lack of major action on road upgrades to the highway this side of Colac was highlighted in a recent review by The Princes Highway West Action Alliance which found that there had only been minor upgrades since the last VicRoads strategy was produced 19 years ago.
"Outside a limited number of passing lanes, there have been no significant improvements to what remains a dangerous stretch of road," the alliance's traffic engineering draft review says.
SPOTLIGHT ON DANGEROUS ROAD
Almost two decades ago, the VicRoads strategy shone a spotlight on the dangers.
It found the crash rate was greater than the state average in the winding sections between Colac and Warrnambool and between Portland and Heywood with 23 lives lost over a five-year period in the 1990s.
The latest data shows there have been 152 crashes, including three fatalities, on the highway between 2013 and 2018. Of those crashes, 71 happened in Warrnambool.
Push for $365m upgrade
The alliance is pushing for $365 million worth of upgrades between Colac and the South Australian border, including eight overtaking lanes worth $51.1 million.
While the Federal Government promised $140 million for roads west of Warrnambool, including the Princes Highway, before last month's election, the state government has yet to commit any funding to the projects.
South West Coast MP Roma Britnell claimed last week that the State Government had cut $220m from rural and regional roads at a time when the road toll was up 63 per cent on last year. But the government said any suggestion that it was cutting funding from regional roads was untrue.
According to VicRoads, most of Victoria's rural road network was built more than 70 years ago - beyond the average lifespan of a road - out of low cost materials that were prone to wear from unplanned truck use.
"Since then, freight and heavy vehicle use on our roads has increased dramatically," it says.
"The introduction of heavier trucks has been the single greatest development of the freight industry and helps drive our healthy economy, but it has also accelerated the deterioration of our roads."
Traffic on some sections of the Princes Highway has almost doubled over the past 19 years. Two decades ago there were about 5000 vehicles using the road each day between Warrnambool and Port Fairy, now it is up to 9600.
In 2000 there were about 3000 vehicle movements between Warrnambool and Colac, those numbers were now as high as 6000 between Colac and Camperdown and about 4500 between Camperdown and Allansford.
More overtaking lanes planned
VicRoads acting regional director (south-west) for regional roads Emma Miller-Olsen said it was hard at work delivering a multi-year maintenance package aimed at making the highway stronger and safer for the people who relied on it.
"We've already completed extensive works on sections between Portland and the South Australian border and are planning to deliver even more work from Colac to west of Warrnambool over the next two years," she said.
As well as the overtaking lanes at Weerite, there are also plans for road safety upgrades between Warrnambool and Allansford.
On top of that, $40 million was set aside for upgrades west of Colac between 2016 and 2020.
As part of that project, about 55 kilometres of the road have been rebuilt, resurfaced and repaired as well as at least six intersections.
During the next two years there will be five "major" road rebuilding works between Camperdown and Terang, repairs to sections west of Port Fairy, Yambuk and Tyrendarra and "significant" rehabilitation between Portland and Heywood.
In relation to the 19-year-old Princes Highway West A1 Corridor Strategy, VicRoads says it has:
- Built four of the seven overtaking lanes between Warrnambool and Portland earmarked in the strategy;
- Built five of the eight overtaking lanes between Portland and the South Australian border;
- Built one of the six overtaking lanes between Warrnambool and Colac;
- Installed a right turning lane at the entrance of Tower Hill;
- Strengthened the Yaloak Creek bridge and widened the bridge at Pirron Yallock Creek;
- Completed shoulder sealing between Portland and the South Australian border and
- Will start more Shaw River bridge works soon.
In the lead-up the the Federal Election, Member for Wannon Dan Tehan announced $60 million for upgrades to the Princes Highway between Warrnambool and Port Fairy as well as $80 million for roads of strategic importance which include the Princes Highway, Henty Highway and Portland-Casterton and Portland-Nelson Roads. The State Government is expected to chip in $28 million.
In the wake of the surprised federal election result, Mr Tehan vowed to push ahead with the millions of dollars worth of Princes Highway upgrades and drag the state government "kicking and screaming" to do its job. Mr Tehan said he would look into whether he could give the state government the option of spending the federal government's $140m now and get the project started, allowing the state government to chip in its 20 per cent in the third or fourth year of the project.
He said federal government money usually provided the state government with the money which would then allocate and determine where it was spent.
"Given the nature of what's occurring in the south-west, we have got more and more specific with determining where the money would be spent because we want to make sure it actually goes into the road that the community are telling us need investing in," he said.
Former Warrnambool mayor David Atkinson, who was instrumental in developing the corridor strategy 19 years ago as a way of lobbying governments for money, said he didn't think their campaign got anywhere.
"Something has to be done but I don't think I'll live long enough to see it," he said.
"The border ends at Geelong. They won't do anything down here."
Mr Atkinson said he had to drive to Portland the other day and was disgusted by the state of the highway.
New strategy to be released
Mid-year a new Princes Highway Corridor Strategy is expected to be released covering the length of the Princes Highway from Sydney right through to Adelaide.
Mr Tehan said he expected that report would probably reflect the work done by the Princes Highway Alliance.
Alliance spokesman Trevor Greenberger said it was putting together its second package of upgrades worth $60 to $80 million which it would then lobby governments to fund. "Things being considered are the intersection of the Great Ocean Road and entrance to Tower Hill," he said.