It’s no secret that some of Victoria’s regional roads are in pretty bad shape, with upgrades long overdue.
In the state’s west, six local councils have banded together to form the Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Transport Group – and it is calling on the Victorian government to commit $50 million in upgrading what it has classified as the region’s 30 worst C-Class roads.
“Farming in the area has become more productive now so there’s a bigger harvest and that means there is more product to be carted. A lot of local farmers and transport businesses are looking at using B-doubles or bigger but many of our current roads just aren’t up to standard,” says John Martin, Director of Infrastructure at Horsham Rural City Council, which is among the Transport Group’s member councils.
In Wemen, around 75km south-eat of Mildura, fresh produce business Rocky Lamattina & Sons is among the local businesses that has seen the benefits in going “bigger”.
It produces approximately 50,000 tonnes of carrots a year. From B-doubles, it moved to B-triples and now has four PBS-approved B-quads in its fleet; which travel from Victoria to Queensland fully loaded with carrots at a gross combination mass of close to 104.5 tonnes and return empty. The B-quads take a different route when loaded, adding 150km to the leg.
“The issue we had with the B-triples was that they started getting up above the B-double general configuration weights so we couldn’t go on some of the roads. We had to take routes that were longer in terms of distance and time, so we needed to get the extra volume for that extra distance to pay off,” says Angelo Lamattina, Director of Rocky Lamattina & Sons.
He describes the roads within the Wimmera Southern Mallee as “absolutely terrible” and believes much more needs to be done to get them up to scratch. “The problem I suppose is that a road was designed to fit or do a particular purpose. Once past that point, eventually it will get to a point where it wears out. You can only put a bandaid on top of a bandaid so many times before you have to peel it all off and start again.”
Martin agrees, “We’ve got the Western Highway and the Henty Highway which are at a high standard but many sections of the region’s other arterial roads have large sections of narrower seals. A lot of these roads were probably designed for vehicles 50 years ago or more, when seals were narrower.
When vehicles pass, they have to get off onto the shoulders to do that. With the bigger trucks we have now, there is an increased maintenance problem for the roads and for the trucks. It’s not great for a truck or a car coming the other way either,” he says.
For sheep and grain farmer, Daniel Mibus, who operates his business Mycumbeen just south of Horsham, the condition of the region’s roads has been a long time issue.
“I grew up here and for as long as I can remember, the roads have been terrible.
“No matter where you go in the Wimmera, you’ll always find a bad stretch of road that needs to get fixed. The easiest fix is to put up a sign to slow down, but that’s not really fixing the issue. Road upgrades are definitely long overdue. This time of year, some of the bitumen roads you’d think would be in pretty good condition, are in disrepair.”
As well as running his farming business, Mibus is also regularly behind the wheel of his truck and semi, doing local runs. “We have our own truck which is in and out of the farm all the time. Depending on the time of year, we can have up to 15 trucks coming in,” he says.
With livestock haulage, he says poorly maintained roads pose a risk not only to the driver and the vehicle, but also the animals being transported. “The bigger livestock trailers in particular can be really top heavy. One little movement at the bottom, like hitting a pothole, can be catastrophic,” he says.
“I’d like to see these upgrades happen, we definitely need it. We’ve threatened in the past not to pay council rates as we couldn’t get through some of the roads because they were so bad, and eventually they came out and graded it for us – that was last year. We did a few tyres too because there were so many potholes and large rocks.”
In the 2019/2020 financial year, the Victorian Department of Transport invested $5.2 million in upgrades to C-Class roads in the Wimmera including Nhill-Jeparit Road, Dimboola-Rainbow Road and Warracknabeal-Rainbow Road.
Though if reports from transport operators in the area are anything to go by, it would seem that much more still needs to be done.