The highway is open!
After more than a month being closed due to the impact of the bushfires, the Princes Highway has been opened to the New South Wales border.
Over the past week motorists have been able to access Cabbage Tree Creek and then Cann River before Tuesday afternoon’s complete reopening.
The 22km stretch of Mallacoota Road was also fully reopened on Wednesday. The reopening comes on the back of a huge multi-agency effort to restore the fire-ravaged road. Regional Roads Victoria, the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Enviroment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) led the multiagency response which included Parks Victoria, Victoria Police, VICSES and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
Hundreds of crew members joined forces to open the last remaining section of the highway (Cann River to the border) which was one of the most fire impacted arterial roads in East Gippsland.
More than 100 kilometres of the Princes Highway was fire affected and has now been reopened with a reduced speed limit.
But while the highway has completely reopened, some adjoining roads remain closed and unsafe with drivers being asked to be vigilant. This includes smaller local roads and DELWP tracks where hazardous tree assessments have not yet been completed.
Regional Roads Victoria eastern regional director, Sara Rhodes-Ward, said crews faced a challenging task opening this section of road.
“Geotechnical specialists, arborists, road workers and emergency services tackled the huge task which was made even more complex by the steep terrain, challenging conditions and unstable rock formations,” Ms Rhodes-Ward said.
“Thousands of dangerous trees that were burned required assessment and often tricky removal, while road crews swept and cleared tonnes of debris across almost 50 kilometres of road at east of Cann River.
“Around 1500 guide posts and safety signs have been replaced to prevent crashes after they were destroyed, and even melted, in the heat of the fire as well as vital safety barriers along steep drop off sections that were crushed by large fallen trees.
“The complexities of opening this section of road were intensified around Mt Drummer dangerous trees could only be cleared by hand in unstable and sheer terrain.”
Geotechnical specialists have assessed the damage and large temporary steel barriers have been installed to protect road crews and passing vehicles from falling rock.
Works to return the highway, and all bushfire affected roads, to their original condition are expected to take months.
Ms Rhodes-Ward said that already, over 650 kilometres of arterial roads and highways in the bushfire area in the east of the state have been reopened, with a further 220 kilometres on restricted access.
“Dedicated crews continue to work around the clock with the priority of opening roads and reconnecting bushfire affected communities.”
Gippsland East MP, Tim Bull, said while the highway opening took longer than he had hoped, he was pleased it can now allow increased traffic and spending in the towns it runs through.
Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, praised the work of timber industry workers, Australian Army personnel and state government agencies for their efforts.
ROADS OF STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE
On the back of the highway’s reopening, East Gippsland Shire Council mayor, Cr John White, will write to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, asking that the Princes Highway, Snowy Monaro Highway and the Great Alpine Road are significant corridor roads for East Gippsland and that these roads be classified as Roads of Strategic Importance (ROSI).
A motion was moved by Cr Joe Rettino at Tuesday’s first regular council meeting of 2020, which was passed unanimously.
The mayor will also write in support of the Bega Valley Shire Council to support its request to Mr McCormack seeking that the Princes Highway be classified as a ROSI linking both cross border Local Government Areas (LGA) and communities; write to the Gippsland Local Government Network (GLGN) and the Canberra Region Joint Organisation (CRJO) seeking their support; and write to the Victorian and New South Wales Cross Border Commissioners seeking their support for the Princes Highway and Snowy Monaro Highway to be classified as ROSI.
IMAGE: Combat Engineers from the Republic of Fiji Armed Forces work along side Australian Bushmaster vehicles to clear fallen trees from the side of the Princes Highway towards Orbost as part of Operation Bushfire Assist 19-20. (Credit: Department of Defence)