darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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June 19, 2012

One of the most concerning situations to arise out of recent storm damage was the closure of the Princes Highway east of Orbost for several days.

The closure could not have come at a worse time for local small businesses with the Queen’s Birthday long-weekend a popular time for visitors to East Gippsland and the heavy transport industry severely disrupted.

As a direct result of the situation there have been major social and economic impacts on our region and the bottom line is that’s it’s not good enough in the 21st century for the major east coast transport link to be shut down for several days because of storm damage.

The closure has reinforced my view that a major upgrade of the highway is required to improve safety for all road users.

I’ve argued the case in the past that both state and federal governments should be investing in improvements such as wider road shoulders, new rest areas and overtaking lanes. Widening the road corridor should also be part of a safety upgrade.

Clearing roadside vegetation not only reduces the risk of closure following storms and bushfires, it also provides a potential fire break and a landing area for emergency helicopters if required.

Reducing the amount of large trees directly alongside the road can also help to reduce the likelihood of serious injuries and fatalities in run-off road accidents.

Such a project isn’t small scale but it would have spin-off benefits for the region through job creation with skilled contractors in our region potentially able to undertake a lot of the clearing work as part of a major safety upgrade.

There is no question that the safety of the highway needs addressing and next month I will sit down with local transport operators, VicRoads, local government representatives and State MP Tim Bull to discuss the long-term future of the highway.

I’ve also accepted an invitation from Transport Minister Anthony Albanese to discuss the issue with him in Federal Parliament and am hopeful that neighbouring Eden-Monaro MP Mike Kelly will also engage in these discussions to find a way forward in terms of a Commonwealth response to the issues at hand.

Bushfires and storms are predictable occurrences in the East Gippsland region and the impact that they have on local communities needs to be minimised where possible in the interests of locals and visitors to our region.

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