Road safety concerns re-ignited

A SPIKE in log truck activity along a winding stretch of road in Jeeralang Junction this month has re-ignited local residents’ long-held road safety concerns.

HVP Plantation log trucks have been hauling loads of felled roadside trees along Jumbuk Road since early March, as part of Latrobe City Council’s first stage of planned upgrades to the controversial route.

The roadside felling, which ceased earlier this week, will allow council to widen a number of narrow bends on the road.

Proposed logging haulage along the route, which cannot commence until the completion of a $1.3 million road-widening upgrade, has fuelled one of the region’s most heated road safety debates.

Jeeralang Junction resident Brian Kilday said there were many places along the road where oncoming vehicles, faced with loaded log trucks, could not safely move to the road edge due to steep drop-offs, steep batters, lack of verges and unstable edges.

However this month’s temporary haulage effort, performed under a Latrobe City permit requiring log trucks to be accompanied by an escort vehicle, has helped quell the fears of at least one resident, who said the escort system worked “exceptionally well”.

“They do need to be credited for that; it gave local drivers adequate prior warning to what was coming,” Jumbuk Road resident Bill Roberts said.

“However what is planned when logging at the Jumbuk plantation is in full swing equates to about 20,000 loaded trucks over the harvest period, and then the empty trucks have to return, as well as all the associated workforce vehicles.”

Mr Roberts and Mr Kilday have since called for escort vehicles to become a permanent requirement for log truck passage on the road.

The contentious and complex Jumbuk Road debate, which has spanned eight years between residents, council and HVP Plantations, came to a head in 2010, when Latrobe City reversed the 2007 decision which unanimously rejected HVP’s request to use the road as a timber haulage route.

Council’s 2010 decision revolved around a decades-old agreement between council and Australian Paper Manufacturers, which argue ever existed.

South Ward councillor Darrell White, who voted in favour of the reversal, visited concerned Jumbuk Road residents on Tuesday, and said he still believed council made the right decision to allow HVP logging trucks to use the road when logging commenced.

“All I can say at this stage is I got the messages from residents quite clearly and they will be taken on board, both about the success of the escort vehicles, and more concerns about a couple of bends in the road and the capacity of the road surface to maintain integrity under log truck traffic,” Cr White said.

“But all I will say is the decision has been made; the investment that’s going into the road will make a difference, and council is happy to have continuing dialogue with residents.”

According to Latrobe City Council, the widening of five corners as part of the first stage of upgrades was expected to finish in June, while the widening of six remaining road bends were subject to planning permit approval, and had no start date.

Harvesting of the 380 hectare Jumbuk plantation is not due to commence until road upgrades have been completed.