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Silence of the ramps

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FUTURE development of Mitchell Shire towns in the Urban Growth Boundary are being compromised by inaction and broken promises that are seeing releases of residential land stalling due to lack of access infrastructure.

The towns of Beveridge and Wallan are carrying the brunt of the delays that are restricting the development of the existing communities.

With a large portion of projected growth in the Wallan and Beveridge areas, pressure needs to be put on government agencies to address the issue sooner rather than later. Of particular concern is the Watson Street and Hume Freeway Diamond Interchange in Wallan.

The project, which was first announced close to 18 years ago, includes the construction of southern ramps and upgrade of the existing interchange to the Hume Freeway into a full diamond interchange.

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Land developers, businesses and local residents have been vocal on the construction of entry and exit raps on the south side of the Hume Freeway-Watson Street interchange urging that it would dramatically reduce congestion on the existing Northern Highway exit that is struggling to cope with increased traffic loads.

A panel hearing into amendment C96 to the Mitchell Planning Scheme back in 2014 provided an indication that construction and any relief to traffic congestion was in the distant future with comments by a VicRoads representative putting the construction of the ramps “within the next ten years”.

A stumbling point for funding for the construction is the increasing VicRoads reliance on funding for the construction works coming from developers.

While there is general agreement that developers should contribute to infrastructure such as public open spaces within a development, contributions towards projects that are essentially state infrastructure are seen as the responsibility of the government.

It is this sticking point that has in part contributed to delays in projects like the Watson Street interchange.

At that time Mitchell Shire Council also advised the panel that it did not support the VicRoads’ request for to introduce developer contributions towards the interchange ramps agreeing that the ramps were indeed state infrastructure.

The residential development at Wallara Waters is one development in the area that has experienced delays in land releases due to holdups in in approvals from authorities – in particular VicRoads.

A 2009 agreement between the developer, council and VicRoads required the preparation of a traffic impact assessment, after 553 residential lots had been constructed. This was to assess the potential works for construction of the south-oriented Hume Freeway ramps on Watson Street and other upgrade works.

However discussions between the parties appeared to stall mid 2017 with the traffic impact assessment and agreement on future road access works failing to gain consensus.

A dispute on the Wallara Waters project was scheduled to go to VCAT last December with the applicant seeking a review and a decision on the suitability of the traffic impact assessment that was holding up the release of some 70 residential lots that VicRoads, as the referral authority, was not giving approval.

In December an order from VCAT advised that the developer had withdrawn the application as the matter had been settled allowing the development to proceed with a revised traffic impact assessment provided.

Back in May 2017 there seemed to be some movement in Watson Street when the Member for Yan Yean, Danielle Green, announced $3.8 million to kick start road projects including the southern ramps at the Hume Freeway and Watson Street interchange and duplication of the Northern Highway from the Hume Freeway to Wallan Secondary College.

“These upgrades will improve access to the developing residential areas East of Wallan as well as Wallan train station, while also providing a vital alternative Hume Highway access point. Northern Highway duplication would significantly reduce traffic congestion, improve travel times and make it safer for drivers to access Wallan during peak periods,” Ms Green said at the time.

Minister for Public Transport and Major Projects Jacinta Allan was a little less committed. When the North Central Review asked her to provide details on the possible cost and progress on the Watson Street interchange, Ms Allan’s office responded with the obvious.

“The upgrade of the Watson Street interchange and southern ramps onto the Hume Freeway will relieve traffic congestion on the Northern Highway and provide alternative access to the Hume Freeway,” the response from Ms Allan’s office stated.

“This project along with the upgrade of Watson Street and duplication of the Northern Highway south of Watson Street are part of a package of works planned to help cater for the future growth of Wallan.”  There was no response to our request for a timeline for works planned.

Mitchell Shire Mayor Cr Rhonda Sanderson said that cCouncil is advocating strongly for the Hume Freeway to connect with Watson Street through the construction of on and off ramps.

“We’re also calling for Watson Street and the Watson Street bridge to be duplicated, including a reconfiguration of the Watson Street Northern Highway intersection,” Cr Sanderson said.

These works are expected to cost approximately $80 million, with Council calling for $20 million immediately to design and start construction of the diamond interchange.
“Council is also calling on VicRoads to progress plans to investigate duplication of the Northern Highway at Wallan,” she added.

Meanwhile at the southern end of the Urban Growth Boundary, work is underway on the O’Herns Road upgrade with stage 2 of the project comprising a new diamond interchange at O’Herns Road and the Hume Freeway.

Despite being mooted several years after the Watson Street project, O’Herns Road has attracted federal and state government funding under the $3 billion Victorian Infrastructure Package. Completion is due in late 2019.

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