Victorian Shadow Minister for Regional Development Darren Chester was instrumental in getting the Echuca-Moama bridge project funded and commissioned when serving as the Government Minister for Infrastructure and Transport for 22 months in 2016 and 2017.
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“As an opposition member you don’t hold the cheque book but you can influence government members,” he told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
Opened on April 10, 2022, the new $323.7 million Echuca-Moama bridge is symbolic of the importance of regional infrastructure. But major regional projects are currently at a standstill.
Mr Chester was at the site of the near-100-year-old Yarrawonga Mulwala Traffic Bridge last Thursday. He is now getting behind the 30-year-to-date push for a new traffic bridge over Lake Mulwala.
He met with the two key drivers, John Lawless and Robert Purtle OAM of the proposed Green Route traffic bridge linking Yarrawonga and Mulwala.
Along with three other National Party politicians, Mr Chester discussed the need for regional funding towards a new bridge. Federal Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell, Tim McCurdy Victorian Member for Ovens Valley and Gaelle Broad MP Member for Northern Victoria accompanied Mr Chester.
Also at the meeting were Moira Shire Administrator John Tanner, and Yarrawonga Mulwala Tourism and Business Executive Officer Noel Wright.
At the outset, Mr Chester said the community has been incredibly patient and worked hard with both sides of politics for a very long time, for a new traffic bridge.
“I’m disappointed to hear very little progress has been made in getting a new bridge,” he said. “The community has run out of patience.
“This is a project needed and is long overdue. I will be supporting my colleagues on both sides of the border. I know if you invest in a very good project you can save lives and improve productivity.”
Mr Chester re-iterated: “Although in opposition I believe you can influence the outcome here, much to the benefit of the community.”
Federal Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell described the Echuca-Moama bridge as “a great piece of highly necessary structure”.
“It was as a result of state and federal governments working together to build something,” he said.
“We need to do the same here in Yarrawonga Mulwala now that we’ve established the preferred route and we need to ensure this bridge is a priority.”
Mr Birrell was critical of the current Federal, NSW and Victorian Governments which he said, respectively, had not undertaken major projects, needed to prioritise the subject new bridge or had overspent on major projects in Melbourne neglecting the Victorian regional area.
“Since coming to government in Victoria Labor has cut regional spending and has frozen key infrastructure projects to conduct a 90 day review of the $120 billion pipeline of infrastructure projects over the next 10 years which was established by the Coalition Government,” he said.
“That review is already more than 100 days overdue, meanwhile important regional projects remain in limbo. And many face the axe.”
Victorian Member for Ovens Valley Tim McCurdy said the conversations held last Thursday are still very proactive on how a new bridge can be built for Yarrawonga Mulwala.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the people at the table who are going to make these decisions,” Mr McCurdy said.
“What we are trying to do is look at an approach towards three bridges, Tooleybuc, Swan Hill and not just Yarrawonga Mulwala. Let’s not pick one off against the other. We want to say let’s do the funding for all three.”
Mr McCurdy agreed the investment by the Federal Government into the munitions factory plays an important part in getting a new bridge but said it is only one issue of many.
“There’s no single bullet in any of these issues, certainly we don’t want munitions being transported down the main street of Yarrawonga, but all the different issues add up.”
He agreed another issue around the current bridge is the farmers needing to cross over with their heavy vehicles and equipment, particularly around the upcoming big harvest.
“A lot of farmers have land on each side of the river, they have to stop traffic on the bridge to get a header over for example, and that’s impractical in a peak tourism town that we have here and the fastest growing town in regional Victoria. It’s dangerous and we have to do something about it,” Mr McCurdy said.
Victorian Member for Northen Victoria Gaelle Broad referred to some metropolitan work being undertaken without a proper business case. “Projects which benefit the whole state should be prioritised and this new bridge fits that category,” the Bendigo-based Ms Broad said.
“Talking with locals up here I see the priority for this new bridge. It has been for a long time and it has strong community support.”
Moira Shire Administrator John Tanner said council is working very closely with Victorian Department of Transport. “We’re hoping to have in place shortly a joint meeting with NSW Federation Council to have a clear understanding where the priority is positioned,” he said.
Mr Lawless and Mr Purtle welcomed the 45 minute meeting in the Yarrawonga Mulwala Visitor Information Centre and said it was good to see the four politicians.
“We invited (Victorian Premier) Jacinta Allan (on October 10) to visit us and talk about the new bridge,” Mr Lawless said. “It would be great to see her up here.
“It was great to see John Tanner here. I believe he has a very positive understanding of Yarrawonga and the expansion going on and expected for the coming years.”
Mr Purtle said he appreciated the keenness of everyone at the meeting in wanting to see the project receive a higher priority rating for new bridges, especially with firmly anticipated major increases in the use of the bridge following recent announcements by the Federal Department of Defence regarding missile production and consequential increases in employment numbers. Those increased employee numbers are expected to start shortly and substantially increase over the next five years.
The keen Green Route supporters are hoping to see the Victorian Premier visit Yarrawonga Mulwala and that the Victorian Shadow Minister for Regional Development can be instrumental also with a design and construct of a new Yarrawonga Mulwala Traffic Bridge as quickly as possible.