Calls to upgrade Dargo road

Calls to upgrade Dargo road

The Dargo High Plains Road has been closed for the winter a few days earlier than usual because of poor weather expected this week. 
The road is usually closed after the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and is scheduled to reopen before Melbourne Cup Day in November, but for the past two years, the road hasn’t opened until December.  
A spokesperson for the Alpine Shire, which is responsible for part of the road, as it extends into its shire, told the Advertiser late snow falls had resulted in the road remaining closed.
Wellington Shire shares responsibility for the Dargo High Plains Road with the Alpine Shire.
While the Alpine Shire takes care of around 39 kilometres of unsealed road, the Wellington Shire is responsible for around 19 kilometres of unsealed and eight kilometres of sealed road closer to Dargo.
A spokesperson for the Wellington Shire said “the road has closed seasonally for many years, as long as people can remember, because of snow and the deterioration of the road during winter”.
The closure takes place about 45 kilometres north of Dargo and prevents tourists travelling through from Bright and New South Wales.
The impact of the road closing for several months each year is felt by local businesses, namely the Dargo General Store and Dargo Hotel.
Dargo General Store owner, Kerry Leemon, said while she understands “safety comes first” she is inundated with calls once the road closes from frustrated tourists who are keen to visit Dargo.
Ms Leemon says it prevents visitors from the north accessing Dargo, whom contribute to business revenue in the township.
“No one has control over the weather, it’s the late grading (of the road) close to Christmas that’s an issue,” she said.
“In the past every other track leading to the High Plains Road is graded before the very one to get to those tracks.
“So travellers from the north can enjoy Blue Rag Track, but the actual main thoroughfare is left until last,” Ms Leemon said.
The Dargo Business and Tourism Association has encouraged the Alpine and Wellington Shire Councils to work collaboratively to maintain the Dargo High Plains Road “in a manner that would facilitate the road being opened year round”.
“It is foreseeable that the road being opened all year would provide a significant boost in tourist traffic to the township during the snow season,” said Emile Theodore, Dargo BTA president.
“Continued access to the town from the north would bolster domestic tourism from the northern states,” he said.
“Due to access constraints these visitors typically opt for other destinations when the Dargo High Plains Road is closed to avoid a three-hour detour.”
Mr Theodore suggested there could be an opportunity for new business streams such as equipment hire to maintain the road.
The chief executive officer of Four Wheel Drive Victoria, Wayne Hevey, said the seasonal closure of the road affected his 14,000 members.
“It’s frustrating for people coming from interstate to find the road closed,” he said.
Mr Hevey said he had had discussions with the Alpine Shire and Parks Victoria about keeping the road maintained, “but it falls on deaf ears”.
The Alpine Shire Council has set aside$2.6 million for “new and upgraded infrastructure” along the road but the monies won’t seal the route.
“It’s not sufficient funds for that, it’s just to fix some bog holes on our side,” an Alpine Shire councillor told the Advertiser.
“The road should be maintained by the State (government), not the local council,” the councillor said.
The Wellington Shire confirmed the desire to have the road sealed had existed for a very long time, “but the estimate for this work to take place and then to maintain is in the tens of millions”.
The Federal Member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, said he has continued “to advocate for funding for the Dargo High Plains Road for many years” raising the issue with both State and Federal governments.
“As the road itself falls within the jurisdiction of the Victorian Government, it would need to nominate the project as a priority and either fund the works itself or apply to the Federal Government through various available funding programs,” he said.
Mr Chester said he would support “any application put forward for the upgrade.”

IMAGE: The Dargo High Plains Road is now closed with visitors from the north unable to access the Dargo township. (PS)


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