Road, rail and port infrastructure is crucial for our industry in transporting product from harvest site to be processed, and also to the end customer. If harvested timber cannot be transported cost-effectively, it is a competitive disadvantage for our industry – against both interstate and imported product.
Better road infrastructure and regular maintenance directly improves the domestic and international competitiveness of Victorian forest, fibre and wood products industries, supporting job security and attracting new investment in the sector.
Just this week, I was very concerned to see The Weekly Times report that funding for Victorian road maintenance was cut by around 60 per cent between 2010 and 2016 (it’s worth noting that this period covers government by both major parties). Alarmingly, VicRoads expects 80 per cent of the state’s roads will be in a poor or very poor condition by 2025.
The established and growing timber plantations in the Green Triangle region, on the Victorian and South Australian border, and the state forest and plantation operations in eastern Victoria are key areas where the industry is facing infrastructure constraints. Poorly maintained roads also represent a safety risk to log truck drivers, other road users and local communities.
In 2011, a comprehensive assessment of industry roading needs estimated the total cost of road upgrades at $97 million over five years. Despite this clear signal from industry, investment has been sporadic and there is still a substantial shortfall in funding. By 2014 only a reported $4.5 million in state funding had gone to roads frequently used by the forest and wood products industry.
Many local councils struggle to maintain and upgrade their local road networks; and VAFI members have reported spending considerable funds on maintaining local roads because of the lack of budget available to local governments.
It’s not all bad news, with the recent confirmation of a $7.63 million upgrade for an important timber access route in north-eastern Victoria adjoining the Murray Valley Highway with support coming from the state and federal governments, Towong Shire and HVP Plantations.
However, a multi-year investment program is desperately needed to restore our local and arterial roads across the state. VAFI will continue to emphasise this need in our advocacy to local and state governments, and we encourage our members and local residents to make local road hazards known to their elected representatives.