Plan to fix infrastructure in Victoria is needed now

Millions of Victorians are about to vote in the state election. The contest has been big on spending, with both parties appealing to voters on the very legitimate issues of health, energy, cost of living and education.

But as I write this column, much of Victoria remains underwater from unprecedented spring rainfall that has devastated much of southeast Australia, and we are regrettably none the wiser on plans to repair and reinstate our flood-ravaged transportation infrastructure.

As waters slowly recede in regional Victoria, the damage to the state’s road and rail transportation network is becoming clearer. Hundreds of kilometres of roads have been impacted, with damage ranging from small, medium and large potholes, through to entire swathes of roadway being lifted and literally washed away.

And as if that wasn’t enough, a key rail corridor between Melbourne and Adelaide is now closed after flash flooding at Inverleigh appears to have buckled the tracks, derailing a 1.7km freight train. Thankfully, there were no injuries. 

The derailment will further challenge already-compromised road and rail freight supply chains, with an influx in heavy vehicle road freight movements between Victoria and South Australia expected until the rail corridor can safely re-open.

The destruction of our state’s road and rail infrastructure assets underscores our calls for urgent federal and state funding to tackle the massive repair and reinstatement job ahead. 

Our current state budget includes $101m allocation for regional road upgrades, $780m for road maintenance through all of Victoria and $263m to our Road Safety Strategy. However, this funding is already allocated to projects that were in place before the floods, and significantly more is now needed. 

Reconstructing, reinstating, and resurfacing does not come cheaply. We estimate up to $1 billion may be needed to correct the damage and we need all sides of federal and state politics to come together with a plan for the work that lies ahead. 

Current road funding in the budget will not cover the issues that have now emerged. It will cost a minimum of approximately $500,000 a kilometre to repair roads that, for many hundreds of kilometres, will be identified as unsafe when floodwaters recede.

Such an extraordinary repair bill needs to be addressed by state and federal governments because, whilst it is mainly state road infrastructure that has been damaged, the impact will be felt nationally.

We are already seeing evidence of how national supply chains have been compromised with farmers struggling to get their goods out of regional Victoria to the ports and on to interstate and international markets. The flow-on effect will be felt leading up to Christmas in the form of higher consumer prices and a shortage of supply.

Setting aside the impact on supply chains, there is a real likelihood of personal injury and lives lost because of the inevitable spike in accidents damaged transport infrastructure will be a factor in.

Our authorities are doing a magnificent job quarantining motorists from damaged roads, but the size and scale of this event means accidents will unfortunately happen. The risk of this is felt most by the road freight industry that is acutely aware of its obligation to its customers and the Australian community to keep our supply chains moving as best they can.

Freight will always find a way to get to customers and consumers, particularly during our peak season leading into Christmas. With the expected increase in heavy vehicle traffic, we ask all motorists to take additional care on the roads to prevent accidents and keep everyone as safe as possible.

All this highlights the urgency of the task ahead and, returning to where we started, we need a rapid transport network evaluation, development of a repair strategy and qualifying of cost, with a joint federal-state plan to make our roads safe and operable as soon as possible. 

Until that happens, every tragedy created by the condition of road and rail infrastructure from this point will burn on our collective conscious. 

  • Peter Anderson is CEO, Victorian Transport Association

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