ARARAT - A funding commitment for the extension of the Western Highway duplication to Ararat could be just weeks away, with the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs reaffirming the Federal Government's support for the project as he toured the Ararat Rural City Council's preferred bypass route on Tuesday.
Mr Briggs was joined by Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan along with staff from Council, including Mayor, Cr Paul Hooper.
"Ararat council is very eager for the state government to make the bypass of Ararat a priority and I have to say I agree with them, it's an important project, if we can get to a position of linking Melbourne and Adelaide with a dual carriageway that will lift our productivity enormously in our country," Mr Briggs said.
"We are pressing ahead with the duplication on the Western Highway, there will be more to say in the coming weeks about the future stages of that duplication."
Ararat Rural City Council's preferred route for a bypass of Ararat is to the north of the Ararat urban area and would travel through what is predominantly farm land to the north-east of the city.
Mr Briggs said the duplication of the Western Highway is important not just for Victoria, but the state he is from, South Australia, as well.
He said this week's visit helped to familiarise him with the key infrastructure issues in the electorate of Wannon.
"Obviously the Western Highway is a major road and building stronger road networks throughout Wannon is important," he said.
"Ensuring we have a modern piece of infrastructure linking Melbourne with Adelaide, is very important for this part of the world."
Mr Briggs said any funding announcement was dependant on the outcome of discussions with the State Government on what infrastructure projects it sees as a priority.
"State governments make their plans for their road network and we provide funding on an agreed basis, we are going through those discussions at the moment," he said.
"If the state government decides that the Ararat bypass is a priority then we'll be very happy to look at providing funding.
"This is a project we are interested in if the Victorian Government is keen to pursue it."
Minister for Roads Terry Mulder advised the Western Highway Action Committee as early as last December that completion of the Western Highway duplication to Stawell was a priority for Victoria.
At the time he said the state government was advocating for additional Commonwealth support for the project.
Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan said it is important that both the state and federal governments continue to discuss the bypass.
"It's fantastic that Minister Briggs has been prepared and able to come down here to see first hand what we're talking about because often you need to see and feel things to really understand what's happening," he said.
"Obviously I would like to see the bypasses put on the agenda but what we've got to do is make sure we do it properly, do it systematically, engage with the state government and stress upon them the importance, and that is what the federal government has been doing."
The Federal government will provide 80 percent of any future funding for the Western Highway duplication and has already brought forward $400 million worth of spending.
Mr Briggs said government and council would need to work with business to optimise the benefits to the local economy as a result of bypassing a town with a population of nearly 10,000 people.
"We are very proactive about getting infrastructure for the 21st century, Tony Abbott has made it clear he wants to be remembered as the infrastructure Prime Minister, to achieve that this sort of project is certainly an option," he said.