A WESTERN Highway action group has spoken out in support of the planned duplication project.
Western Highway Action Committee chairman, Northern Grampians Shire mayor Kevin Erwin, has stated his support for the project as works are due to recommence.
The works on the Buangor to Ararat stretch of highway have been delayed for more than a year due to activists camping at the proposed site of the project.
On August 8, activists were given a 14-day notice to vacate the site so works could recommence.
Works have already started last week. It is unclear as to whether the 14 days notice to move on concludes Wednesday or Thursday.
Read more: Highway activists given eviction notice
"It's great to see that the Western Highway upgrades will be recommencing shortly. I know that the community is pleased to see it's kicking off again," Cr Erwin said.
"Major Road Projects Victoria have gone through many studies and sought approvals to get this project on track, after consulting widely with the community and the recognised Traditional Owner organisations that represent the indigenous community."
Cr Erwin referred to information on Major Road Projects Victoria's frequently asked questions page, which states:
"While there has been some debate around the approved route for the highway duplication, any alternative routes have been found to be inferior for various reasons.
"A northern route that was suggested was found to affect approximately 8000 trees, in comparison with the approved alignment, which will affect about 3000 trees.
"In terms of safety, historical data suggests that the Western Highway duplication will deliver a significant reduction in casualty crashes, due to design features such as a central median to separate opposing traffic lanes, wire rope barriers and adequate rest stops among others."
The northern route, as outlined by action group KORS Inc, also includes safety features such as wire rope barriers and a separation of lanes.
KORS secretary Russell Pearse said the figures Cr Erwin cited were incorrect.
"The northern option that he is talking about has no resemblance to what we are proposing," he said.
"It is old information - way out of date and it's misleading. We would only lose 25 large old trees, too."
Documents on Major Road Projects Victoria's website state that 221 large old trees could be lost through the project.
However, also on the road authority's website is another document stating that the figure of 221 is a "severe underestimate" and as many as about 1350 large old trees could be lost.
Read more: What is the northern option?
"Improving safety is a priority, so it's now time to get on and build this duplication as it will save the lives of many Victorians," Cr Erwin said.
Northern Grampians Highway Patrol Acting Sergeant Jason Brown has previously told the Ararat Advertiser that about 87 per cent of serious injuries along the Buangor to Ararat section of the current Western Highway since 2013 occurred on the single lane sections of the road.
He did not attribute the four deaths which have occurred since then to any single cause, or say whether they occurred on single-lane or double-lane sections of the highway.
"A number of emergency services people have spoken to me about the accidents they have seen," Cr Erwin said.
"We all just want to see improved safety along the Western Highway."
Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Tim Harrison said the council supported the best outcome for the community.
"From a council point of view, we're really keen to see the duplication of the highway occur," Dr Harrison said.
"It will enhance road safety, product to market, it's good for the social and economic life of the municipality, so we support it from that point of view very strongly, and we're looking forward to the commencement."
Ararat Mayor Peter Beales said he held a similar position to Cr Erwin.
"That's our position, too - the community has had lots of consultation (with Major Road Projects Victoria) and it's been dragging on for a long time," he said.
"We just want to see it happen."
Some early work has started on the site, with activists reporting several private security officers near the camp last week.
While no one from the camps would comment, a Major Road Projects Victoria spokesman confirmed the presence of security officers.
"Safety is our number one priority as we get back to work on the Western Highway duplication between Ararat and Buangor," he said.
"A security firm is supporting staff as early work activities begin within the proposed site."
The Ararat Advertiser also asked Major Road Projects Victoria the following questions in regards to the security officers:
- Are the activists considered an active threat in terms of sabotaging work or being violent?
- What would it cost to hire security officers?
- What legal jurisdiction would they have?
These questions were not addressed in the road authority's response.
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