By Colin MacGillivray
MITCHELL Shire Council has united with the federal opposition to call for immediate works on a planned Hume Freeway diamond interchange at Watson Street, Wallan.
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King met with Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell and council representatives in Wallan last week to discuss the project, which will create south-facing freeway entry and exit ramps at Watson Street to align with existing north-facing ramps.
Ms King and Mr Mitchell slammed the Federal Government for its inaction on the project since announcing $50 million of funding in August last year.
Ms King said the government had ‘absolutely failed to deliver’ on the project since committing the funding.
“It’s symptomatic of what we’re seeing across the country in terms of the government making lots of announcements and putting out lots of press releases around their road projects, but not actually delivering,” she said.
“Every single year across the country the government is spending between $1.2 and $1.7 billion less than it has promised on infrastructure. It’s not as though the money is not there, the money just needs to flow.
“Particularly after COVID as we start to recover, these are really important construction jobs for local communities.”
Mr Mitchell said a diamond interchange would help alleviate peak-hour traffic in Wallan’s east.
“Anyone who drives through Wallan now will tell you that the traffic is getting horrendous, particularly as people are heading back to work after COVID and with the extra growth in housing,” he said.
“We’ve brought the Deputy Prime Minister here and stood him on this very spot to show him the importance of it, and [the government is] great at making the announcement but there’s been no following through.
“The council and the community are both saying this has to be done now.
“Each and every day people are queuing for sometimes up to 40 minutes to get from Wallara Waters into Wallan, and that’s just ridiculous.”
Mitchell Shire Mayor Rhonda Sanderson said she believed the talks with Ms King were ‘very productive’.
“We hope [this will get the ball rolling]. We know how important it is to the community that these things are carried through,” she said.
Council chief executive Brett Luxford said he saw no reason why the project should not be underway.
“We think the diamond interchange is vitally important to relieve congestion through Wallan and to provide alternatives for the community,” he said.
“We believe all the funding is in place and everything has been designed and is ready to go, so from the community’s perspective the sooner it happens the better.”
A Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development spokesperson said the project was in ‘detailed planning’.
“[This] involves identifying and investigating investment priorities for upgrades along the corridor, including the construction of southerly orientated ramps at the interchange of Watson Street and the Hume Freeway,” the spokesperson said.
“A delivery schedule is being determined as part of this process in consultation with the Victorian Government.
“The Australian Government has committed $50 million to fully fund the upgrade to the Hume Freeway between Watson Street in Wallan and the M80 Ring Road under the Urban Congestion Fund.”
Ms King said the project had been in planning since it was announced.
“We ask what’s happening with this project at every senate estimates, which happens regularly, and the government keeps telling us it’s in planning,” she said.
“In planning can mean anything, and they’ve been saying it’s in planning for a long time now. We think it’s time for it to be under construction.”