Clive Hope from Meeniyan, right, chats with VicRoads’ David Gellion about the highway realignment plans. N033217

AFTER almost 20 years of talking about it, the dangerous bends on the South Gippsland Highway between Koonwarra and Meeniyan will be bypassed.
The details of the $50 million project, jointly funded by State and Federal governments, were revealed on Wednesday last week when members of VicRoads’ Major Projects division briefed South Gippsland Shire councillors in Leongatha.
Tenders for the project will be shortlisted this month and the winning contractor announced early next year.
Work will commence immediately but such is the scale of the project, it will take three years to complete – the expected time frame is early 2021.
Two 130-metre bridges over the Tarwin River are included in the plans as the realignment will more closely follow the rail trail. In fact, there will be floodlit underpasses built to ensure an uninterrupted passage for trail users. However, the trail will have to be closed temporarily for the works to be carried out.
“The long construction period reflects the difficulty in the terrain,” David Gellion from the Major Projects team said.
“The tenderers have had to be walked through to appreciate the challenges of the site.
“It involves hilly terrain with large cuts of up to 18 metres which is a very significant cut.
“There will be restricted access. The contractors will have to build access roads in to build the bridges.”
Known as The Black Spur section of the South Gippsland Highway, south of Koonwarra, the existing highway has several steep and winding points.
Crash rates for this section of the highway are significantly higher than the Victorian state average.
Thirteen crashes have occurred along the Black Spur section during the past five years, four resulting in serious injury.
The highway has many winding, undulating and narrow stretches, unsealed shoulders and limited overtaking lanes.
Travel time from Melbourne is increased due to this section, which has the potential to deter tourists from visiting.
More than 4000 vehicles use that section of the highway every day, including 1000 heavy vehicles.
“This is a project that has been well and truly needed over a long period of time,” Mr Gellion said.
Community consultation dates back to 2000 when four options were presented to the community.
The proposed route was not VicRoads’ initial choice. A local farmer explained that a natural ridge would form the best and most direct route and after exploring the alternative, the plans were changed.
Public acquisition overlays were adopted in 2003. Two landowners are expected to be affected.
Permits to remove native vegetation were approved in 2004.
The permits have been renewed by the council every five years since.
Cultural heritage assessments, hydrology studies and Native Title approvals have all been completed.
Even the prehistoric dig sites have been taken into consideration.
“The works will have minimal impact on the fossil site. Works will be to the north of the site,” Mr Gellion said.
He said the Nerrena Landcare Group is keen to get involved.
Other aspects of the project include central safety barriers, either wire rope barriers or a flexible barrier that Mr Gellion said was the preferred option.
The Minns Road intersection will also be made safer.
A Community Information session will be held in Koonwarra on August 9 about the project status from 2pm to 6pm at the Koonwarra Hall.
Drop in at any time, view the plans and speak to VicRoads staff.