Road safety was front of my mind in my electorate over the recent Labour Day weekend. Thousands of visitors descended on the north-east to soak up our beautiful autumn weather and attend COVID-safe festivals, events and gourmet experiences, including the Tastes of Rutherglen, the Tallangatta show, the Mighty Mitta Muster, and Upstream: Festival of Art + Culture.
One thing that unites these events is that everyone used roads to get there. When our visitors headed home on Monday, traffic was bumper to bumper, from Bright to Myrtleford and from Yea to Mansfield. Frustrations boiled over and some dangerous behaviour occurred. Road safety niggles became problems. The need for upgrades could not be made clearer—improvements like left-turning lanes on the Maroondah Highway in Bonnie Doon to enhance safety and improve traffic flow, or widening the Midland Highway between Benalla and Mansfield so that people can safely overtake. We need to accelerate these upgrades. North-East Victoria is ready to meet the post-COVID domestic tourist boom, but we need safe and reliable roads to do so.
Roads to Recovery, the Black Spot Program and the Bridges Renewal Program are important, but we need more. The government should expand the eligibility criteria and size of these programs to fund more shovel-ready infrastructure projects for safety and to boost our economic growth.
As the Hume Region Local Government Network has said, the scale of economic damage wrought by the 2020 bushfires and the pandemic requires substantially augmented funding in these key areas to help regional communities not just to recover but to build back better and position themselves for the long term.
Yet, with its much-hyped infrastructure and road safety focus, I’m left asking: when is the government’s delivery of its flagship election promise to the people of Indi—the McKoy Street intersection upgrade (in Wodonga)? It’s been almost two years and absolutely nothing has changed. It’s only a matter of time before an accident happens, and the government really needs to get on with it.
There’s no shortage of road safety projects that the government can fund right now in my electorate, which the mayors of our nine local governments put to the Treasurer just last month. For example, the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road is the gateway to the gourmet food and wine district of the King Valley and a vital escape route in emergencies. It needs widening and improvement to meet growing tourism and agricultural traffic. The mayor has warned it will take a major collision or perhaps, tragically, a fatality to prompt the government to spend money to upgrade it. Let’s prove him wrong.
The Benalla-Whitfield Road upgrade will seal the last six kilometres of this gravel road, where traffic has doubled in two years, and it is also a school bus route. This will secure better accessibility in the King Valley, which is crucial during emergencies. The Alexandra-Thornton-Eildon rail trail link will give road cyclists a dedicated trail so they can get off the busy main roads and access the district’s premier tourist attractions of the GRVT and Lake Eildon. The Skyline Road Tourist Precinct would seal 18 kilometres of road between Bonnie Doon and Eildon to provide a new iconic touring experience. This will improve safety and connectivity and the return on investment would be huge.
Safe roads are important for our $49.9 million per annum cycle tourism sector. Over 100,000 people visit the north-east to cycle each year. It’s incredible, isn’t it? Lycra-clad visitors, local commuters, everyday families and people on e-bikes from Tawonga South to Felltimber Creek are a regular sight on our roads. Bike-crazy Alpine Shire locals have joined the Amy Gillet Foundation on the Live, Drive, Ride Like a Local campaign, which aims to build respect between all road users. I want to acknowledge Mark, Fiona, Doug, Nick, David, Phil, Daniel, Sam, Cooper and Helen who starred in the video and everyone involved with this public safety campaign.
Whether it be on two wheels or four, at the end of the day the most important part of using a road is getting home safely to our families. That’s something we all share. I commend the member for Cowper for this motion. As a cyclist and as a motorist, I really encourage the government to do more on road safety.