Emerging transport issues autonomous cars and climate disasters

LOCAL Government Areas are working with a transport group to develop a strategy to work through emerging issues surrounding road and rail infrastructure. 

The Wimmera Southern Mallee Regional Transport Group are working with Ballarat’s Driscoll Engineering and the shires Yarriambiack, Buloke, West Wimmera, Hindmarsh, Horsham and Northern Grampians to examine each councils requirement and priorities for capital works. 

The plan is set to cover road, rail and include VicRoads, in particular C-class roads; which are largely used by farmers and the local communities. 

Roughly every five years, WSMRTG conduct a review of what the regions major transport priorities are.

Dricoll Engineering Director Gary Driscoll has been working with the transport group for the past 15 years. 

He said the current strategy they are developing is looking into issues such as climate change, autonomous vehicles and vegetation management. 

“Climate change is really an ongoing and emerging issue that’s testing us. With flood damage, we need to be building resilient assets so we don’t have damage in times of high events; that’s one,” Mr Driscoll said. 

“Number two is autonomous vehicles; how we’re going to handle them when they come in, because council roads aren’t built for them. We don’t have edge lines and centre lines and electric vehicles is another issue.”

According to Regional Partnership reports, data is showing from 2011-2016 regional tourism in the Wimmera Southern Mallee increased by 6.8 percent due to influences such as the Silo Art Trail. 

Mr Driscoll said with tourism booming in the last few years, safe travel is among their highest priorities. 

“Tourism is always a changing issue with access for our tourist via buses, trains and planes,” he said. 

“Things we might be focusing on is increased demand at Lake Tyrell. Buloke Shire has the responsibility to ensure that tourists can get there and get home safely. Part of that would be an improvement to the Sea lake Aerodrome for example, because a lot more planes are doing trips around there.” 

According to figures from Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Victoria agriculture contributed in $15 billion to the economy in 2017/18.

As agriculture is one of the prime industries in the Wimmera region, WSMRTG’s strategy is prioritising vegetation management. 

Mr Driscoll said it is important for councils and farmers to work together to manage the issue. 

“Farmers have got to buy bigger equipment to make their farms viable. To get access to properties to sow, we’ve got to get the machinery down these unmade gravel roads where vegetation is close to the roadsides,” he said. 

“Councils are now hit with enormous offset costs if they remove trees to allow farmers access. This is becoming a real issue. We have to work with the farming community as to how we best do that in a cost-effective way.”  

According to data from the Victorian Department of Transport freight volumes are expected to double from 360 million tonnes per year to 900 million by 2051.

The States population is expected to grow to 10 million by 2050 and there are concerns roads will be overwhelmed with trucks as the project remains at a standstill.

Mr Driscoll said lobbying to complete the Murray Basin Rail Project is one of their top priorities. 

“One of our highest priorities in the region is the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project, but at the moment the State Government has completed about 40 percent of the work,” he said. 

“We need the rest of it finished, we can already see where it’s taking trucks off the roads, and with the commitment the Government made to fund the project altogether, the benefits were going to be enormous for our road networks.” 

Tickner Transport Pty Ltd. former truck driver Wes Tickner has been driving on Wimmera Roads for 40 years. 

Mr Tickner said he believes Wimmera Roads are among some of the worst. 

“It’s suffice to say the roads around the Wimmera are the worst among a lot of places,” Mr Tickner said. 

“I never felt unsafe per se, but sometimes you hit some large bumps that tend to move your trucks around a little bit and sometimes you might get off a narrow road to pass another vehicle and you might find the edge of the road has a bit of a drop off and the truck might sway a bit.”

He said regular maintenance to his trucks was fairly common. 

“A lot of those bouncy roads would play havoc with airbags and springs. The roads definitely cause a lot of maintenance issues with the trucks,” he said. 

He said getting freight onto rail will improve safety on the Wimmera  roads. 

“The more trucks you’ve got on the roads, the more danger that is to other road users. If you take 20 percent of freight off the roads, get that on rail that’s got to make the road last a lot longer,” he said.