Upgrade blitz: New regional road body launched

MINISTER for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan has hit back at claims Regional Roads Victoria is nothing more than an "election promise" with "nothing behind it".  

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh slammed the Ballarat-based division in an interview with The Guardian on Tuesday morning, following the launch of the division on Monday. 

Regional Roads Victoria had been touted as the state government's answer to crumbling country roads, with Mr Donnellan telling media the launch marked the start of a "road maintenance blitz" for rural areas. 

With bumpy roads in the region set to be repaired, Mr Donnellan said the regionally-based body would oversee a total $941 million investment by the state government in regional roads. 

Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan has hit back at Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh after he slammed new Regional Roads Victoria in an interview with The Guardian on Tuesday morning.

Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan has hit back at Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh after he slammed new Regional Roads Victoria in an interview with The Guardian on Tuesday morning.

The body would be responsible for repairing, resurfacing and rebuilding more than 1500 kilometres of road under a $333 million maintenance program. 

Among the Mallee roads marked for repair are the Mallee Highway at Managatang, Sea Lake-Swan Hill Road and the Calder Highway at Wycheproof. 

Meanwhile a 1.1km stretch of the Murray Valley Highway, between Copland Road and Mystic Park Road, will be restrengthened and resurfaced. 

But, on Monday Mr Walsh told The Guardian the division was "an election announcement" with "nothing new behind it". 

"Our view is that we would want to see all of VicRoads moved to Ballarat," he said. 

"If you are serious about decentralisation, you wouldn't just shift the regional part of VicRoads, you would shift all of it."

Mr Walsh said the Coalition had publicly stated an elected LiberalNationals state government would shift the state's road body to Ballarat. 

"The solution to Melbourne congestion has to involve all of Victoria and the government can lead the way by shifting public sector jobs to regional areas and shifting all, rather than just a token amount," he said. 

Mr Walsh said the maintenance program and promises to assist local councils struggling with maintenance costs were "empty".

"It's very empty, if they were serious about helping local government, they would actually reinstate the Country Roads and Bridges program, which provided $1 million in grants to all 40 councils," he said. 

"We [the Coalition] would reinstate it, it is something that local government has been wanting to see put back in place, just saying they are going to help them with funding is a nothing statement."

Asked if the $333 million maintenance program was sufficient to address the current state of country roads, Mr Walsh said it was simply a rebranding of existing funds.

"This is not new money, this is just a re-announcement of money that is already there, if they had sustained investment in roads in the last four years then the roads wouldn't be in the poor condition they are in," he said. 

"This is an election announcement that has nothing new behind it." 

The state National Party leader said a recent vote in Parliament had revealed the government's true priorities. 

"Last week we had the legislation in Parliament that was to allocate the traffic fine money to roads," he said. 

"The government proposed spending a third of that in regional Victoria and we moved to increase that to 40 per cent and the Andrews Government and Greens combined to defeat that legislation. 

"Any promise they make around road funding, given how they voted against increasing the amount of traffic fine money that goes to country roads is an empty one

Mr Donnellan hit back at Mr Walsh's claims, telling The Guardian the state government's commitment to roads was "black and white in the budget papers". 

"Since coming to office, we've spent $856 million on country road maintenance," he said. 

Mr Donnellan accused Mr Walsh of "sitting on his hands" for the four years of Coalition government and of being "no friend of country roads". 

"While the Nationals whinge we're getting on with the job - work will start on the Sea Lake-Swan Hill Road, on the Murray Valley Highway, the Loddon Valley Highway and hundreds of other locations across northern Victoria when the weather warms," he said. 

"We've introduced new legislation into the parliament to guarantee funding for country roads." 

Mr Donnellan also labelled Mr Walsh's claim the government had refused to shift revenue from traffic fines back into country roads as inaccurate. 

"That legislation would have passed the Parliament last week if the Nationals supported it – they chose not to, instead filibustering debate while they sharpen the knives to cut country road funding should they get into office," he said. 

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