By Kyra Gillespie and Rowan Forster
Cardinia Shire has bombarded Scott Morrison with a congestion-busting wish list during the Prime Minister’s tour of Pakenham – his first visit to Victoria since seizing the top job.
Escorted by Latrobe MP Jason Wood on Friday 7 September, Mr Morrison examined traffic at the bustling McGregor Road level crossing and Berwick’s Clyde Road.
It comes weeks after the launch of Star News’ Unblock the Gridlock campaign, urging both tiers of government to invest in the south east’s gridlocked road infrastructure.
In the heart of Pakenham, Council General Manager of Assets and Services Mike Ellis approached the PM, reeling off a list of the region’s most egregious arterials.
“Prime Minister, there’s quite a number of issues as you come through the growth corridor and a lot relate to level crossings,” Mr Ellis said.
“This road here, McGregor Road, is a major arterial road as it connects to the Freeway and the Princes Highway. The majority of traffic that comes into Pakenham does so along this route.
“As you can see it comes to this bottle neck here at the rail crossing. So what happens is that the vehicles come in, get effectively logged down here and you get the bank up of vehicles that go right back to the bypass and it takes people 10-15 minutes who reside here to get into town.
“We’ve got rail level crossings at McGregor and Cardinia Road and to the east of Racecourse Road we’ve got the stabling yards being built.
“When they are up and running people will be waiting at the level crossing for 35 minutes of every hour.”
In response, Mr Morrison admitted that as a Sydneysider he was not attuned to Melbourne’s congestion issues.
Amid his latest Cabinet reshuffle, the PM appointed former Pakenham resident Alan Tudge as the Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population.
“This is a very Melbourne problem; in Sydney we certainly have traffic, but we don’t have the same issues because we don’t have level crossings,” he said.
“This is why I’m very keen to have a Melbourne set of eyes to keep tabs on what’s happening here.”
The State Government has undertaken a highly-publicised level crossing removal at Overton Road, Frankston – despite it accommodating just 4000 cars per day when the project was announced in 2016.
McGregor Road, which has not been upgraded in decades, yielded a daily traffic count of 12,000.
“This level crossing has not changed since I was riding my pushbike across this same set of lights as a kid,” Bass MP Brian Paynter said.
“We’re experiencing huge population growth in our region, yet our crossings still remain the same.
“The people of Pakenham deserve the standard of living we expect everybody to have and this is a major hindrance to them and needs to be fixed.”
When asked if a united Liberal State and Federal Government would consider future level crossing removals in Pakenham, Mr Morrison replied: “These things are the responsibility of the State Government.
“The reason I am coming here today is to listen, because that’s what you do first.
“Jason has a pretty good strike rate when it comes to getting his point across. But Alan and I will look at these issues.”
Any tangible action at a federal level now rests on the shoulders of La Trobe MP Jason Wood and Mr Tudge.
“This is an absolute nightmare, you look at these residents it’s not even peak hour and they’re stuck in this heavy traffic,” he said.
“Our goal is to get this fixed, and it’s now my job to lobby to the Minister to make it happen.
“That’s why we’re here today.”