By Pam Kiriakidis
Opposition members of parliament have called on the State Government to address the worsening road conditions across regional Victoria.
Nationals Member for Euroa Annabelle Cleeland said Victoria had experienced a ‘horror start to 2023’, with several road crashes across the north-east and Goulburn Valley.
Transport Accident Commission statistics show 67 people have died on Victorian roads this year, with 41 on rural roads. The road toll has increased more than 36 per cent compared to the same time last year.
Liberal Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell described the condition of Victoria’s regional roads network as ‘deplorable’, blaming Labor’s underinvestment in road maintenance over the past eight years.
Ms Lovell said Labor needed to match or better the Coalition’s election commitment of at least $1 billion a year for the next decade to complete the maintenance program.
“Road users must ensure their cars are roadworthy but sadly our roads are not roadworthy because of the chronic lack of funding from the Andrews Government since their election in 2014,” she said.
“The practice of not repairing potholes properly has led to sections of roads in my electorate being extremely dangerous and I call on the minister to articulate her plan and provide the substantial funding required to fix regional Victoria’s deplorable road network.”
A State Government spokesperson said road conditions were not a major contributor to fatal crashes – listing drink and drug driving, seatbelts, and distractions as the factors – under the advice of the Department of Transport and Planning that works with Victoria Police.
The spokesperson said to help meet the goal of zero road deaths by 2050, the government was investing $385 million in a Road Safety and Action Plan, which would be delivered through Road Safety Partners of Victoria to drive down road trauma.
“Under our Road Safety Strategy and Action Plan, we’re delivering education across the state, reforming policy, trialling new technology, supporting vehicle safety and building safer infrastructure to save lives,” the spokesperson said.
As part of the government’s Community Road Safety Grants in 2022-23, Labor funded $155,220 across 20 local initiatives in the Hume region, including sessions for young drivers about high-risk driver behaviours.
Ms Cleeland said the Parliamentary Road Committee, which Labor cut in 2015, would have provided solutions that once contributed to road toll totals.
“The committee was responsible for inquiries from its very inception in 1967 that resulted in Victoria’s then world-leading road safety initiatives,” she said.
“These initiatives were associated with significant reductions in inquirer and fatality on Victorian roads, including the introduction of mandatory seat belt wearing, the demerit point system, random breath testing, the list goes on.”
Ms Cleeland said people across her electorate reported the state of the roads to be ‘absolutely abysmal’.
“Long-term investment means safer roads, but it’s also about driving down the road toll with intervention initiatives and research into the latest technology,” she said.
The government spokeperson said the Department of Transport and Planning was delivering repair and upgrade works along the Hume Freeway, including a 1.3-kilometre section of northbound lanes near Tallarook, with construction to be completed by June 2023.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Farmers Federation, VFF, says regional roads won’t be able to cope with future severe weather events if they are not maintained to a basic standard.
In a recent submission to the federal parliament, the VFF states that a lack of road maintenance funding exacerbated damage caused by recent flooding.
VFF president Emma Germano said farmers were frustrated that governments continued to neglect road maintenance.
“Enhancing the resilience of the road network to deal with extreme weather events is important, but it can only be achieved by ensuring there is regular maintenance to keep them at an acceptable standard,” she said.
“Maintenance funding keeps going backwards and worryingly Victorians keep risking their lives on dodgy and dangerous roads.”
VFF Transport and Infrastructure Committee chair Ryan Milgate said that in planning for resilience, the government needed to take into account changes in network usage and the increasing demands placed on the roads by high-productivity freight vehicles.
Mr Milgate also said local government must be better resourced to get on with the job of fixing their road networks.
“We are seeing shires in the north of the state facing repair bills of over $50 million in the aftermath of the floods. The Victorian Government has cut its Fixing Country Roads Program, which is badly needed to help local government plan and get on top of road rehabilitation,” he said.
The VFF also supported calls by the newly-formed Rural Roads Alliance for a $5.5 billion emergency funding package in the upcoming federal budget.