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    Western Highway at Daswells Bridge.

Western Highway duplication works stall

By Colin MacGillivray

Victorian opposition leaders are lamenting a lack of progress on Western Highway upgrades between Buangor and Ararat, but State Government officials say the project’s resumption is imminent.

The government is awaiting the completion of a cultural heritage study, with hopes construction will resume later this year.

Shadow roads and road safety spokesperson Danny O’Brien joined Member for Lowan Emma Kealy and Western Highway Action Committee chairman Kevin Erwin in Stawell and Ararat last week to discuss the project with residents.

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Mr O’Brien said progress on the upgrades, which involve the duplication of the Western Highway, had ‘ground to a halt’.

“We all know there have been issues delaying the project, but Labor can’t even give the people of Ararat and surrounds a timeline for when they will be addressed,” he said.

“Ongoing delays exacerbate safety risks along the Western Highway.

“Despite a $100 million injection from the Federal Government last year to help with another Jacinta Allan cost blowout, the project remains in limbo with no completion date in sight.”

Ms Kealy said delays were compromising the safety of motorists.

“The communities along the highway have waited too long, suffered too many flat tyres and damaged rims, and we’ve lost far too many lives. It is time the promised benefits of this project are delivered,” she said.

A State Government spokesperson said it was disingenuous of the opposition to blame the government for holding up the project, as the project was unable to proceed until the completion of a legally-mandated cultural heritage management plan, CHMP.

The CHMP relates to Aboriginal cultural heritage within the work area between Buangor and Ararat, including birthing trees sacred to the Djab Wurrung people.

Progress on the project was halted in 2018 when activists set up three camps known collectively as the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy with the aim of protecting the trees.

Subsequent legal challenges saw the original 2013 CHMP, which approved the removal of the birthing trees, overturned.

Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, the Registered Aboriginal Party responsible for Aboriginal heritage in the region, is working with heritage consultants to complete a new CHMP before work can continue.

“The CHMP will comprehensively detail the results of cultural heritage assessments, potential impacts and management to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage,” the government spokesperson said.

“We have engaged a qualified heritage advisor to ensure that, while working collaboratively with Eastern Maar, we record values associated with the project area.”

Mr Erwin, who is also a Northern Grampians Shire councillor, said he met with the government last week and was assured the project was progressing.

“The big hope is that it is ready to roll for the next construction season, which is from spring onwards,” he said.

“The delays have been around the cultural heritage. I think it’s been to the Supreme Court three times.

“It is a bit disappointing a project that was supposed to be finished in 2018 is only half built and there’s not been a blow struck for five years.”

Mr Erwin expressed doubt the upcoming State Budget would contain any funding for the next stage of the Western Highway upgrade between Ararat and Stawell.

“The number one priority for our committee is duplication through to Stawell, which was the original project announced in 2013,” he said.

“The way finances seem to be with the state, we’re not overly confident about getting further funding for the Ararat to Stawell section of the duplication, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Ms Kealy said funding to upgrade the highway was the number one priority for residents ahead of the State Budget on May 7.

“The Allan Labor Government states safety for all road users is a priority, so it needs to explain why it is yet to confirm funding to upgrade the 26.4 kilometres of Western Highway between Ararat to Stawell that has not been touched,” she said.

The Western Highway is the major road link between Melbourne and Adelaide, with more than 8000 vehicles – including 2400 trucks – travelling on the highway each day.

“Duplication of the Western Highway started in 2013 and was supposed to be finished by 2016, but 11 years later we have only 55 kilometres of the 103-kilometre section of highway duplicated, with no work occurring for the past four years.”

The entire April 24, 2024 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire April, 24, 2024 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!