By Sahar Foladi
Protesting businesses have installed ‘warning signs’ on the dangers of the level-crossing removal on Progress Street in Dandenong South.
At the site, passing drivers blared horns in support of the businesses, who have fought for more than a year against the closure of the street and diversion of traffic onto Fowler Road.
Colin Smith, managing director of nearby business JDN Monocrane, said the situation was “terrible” and they’ve been “ghosted” by the project’s authorities.
“The purpose is to make road users aware of this very dangerous solution.
“They’ll be required to navigate this down this solution and they’re not aware its coming.”
Despite a report from the National Safety Regulator – discovered under Freedom of information (FOI) – that the crossing has negligible risks, the State Government remains committed to “remove the dangerous and congested” level-crossing.
Mr Smith claims the LXRP has failed to provide them with the Safety Audit Reports (SRA) and Safe System Assessment (SSA) documents they’ve asked for countless times.
“For me the priority is safety for our staff.
“Our staff requested safety reports and LXRP won’t provide them.”
Andrew Hamer is managing Director of Pakaflex, located right next to the crossing. He has been a spokesperson for the impacted businesses along Progress Street and Nathan Road.
Mr Hamer has applied to VCAT over LXRP’s alleged failure to provide requested public documents under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
The telephone hearing is scheduled on 18 January 2024.
Greater Dandenong Council city futures executive director Jody Bosman has confirmed the documents were provided to the council.
“A Road Safety Audit (RSA) and a Safe System Assessment (SSA) were provided with one of the latest design packages which Council Officers have provided technical responses to.”
Mr Hamer was one of the first to know of the project, what he regards as a “done deal” but has taken it upon himself to advocate against the plans.
“We remain of the opinion that Fowler Road, with 40 active heavy goods driveways, will never be suitable for as a major A/B double truck route,” Mr Hamer said.
The plans includes a road bridge to replace the level crossing design works with a signalised intersection at South Gippsland Highway.
According to the Level Crossing Removal Project this creates safer access for businesses to Princes Highway.
A LXRP spokesperson continues to label the project as safe as part of the Pakenham Line level crossing free by 2025.
“Significant design work and safety assessments have been undertaken to ensure that the Fowler Road solution will be safe and accessible to all road users.
“Geotechnical studies are underway at the end of Fowler Road as part of detailed design development for the Progress Street level crossing closure.
“It is part of a plan to improve traffic flow and connections in the busy industrial area of Greater Dandenong by getting rid of eight level crossings and building a new bridge over the rail line to remove the dead ends at Remington Drive and Pound Road West.”
Mr Smith says currently, over-dimensional vehicles can go straight down Progress Street and onto the Princes Highway in an easy turn.
“Independent modelling of the Fowler Road diversion has us being unable to get over the planned bridge and having to cross the median strip on the South Gippsland Highway to get out.
“Basically, we would need to close the whole of Fowler Road and the South Gippsland Highway for 15 to 20 minutes while we manoeuvre our cranes out.”
Australia Post, whose distribution centre is located nearby on Nathan Road, has also expressed safety concerns.
“Australia Post has raised significant concerns with LXRP around safety and traffic congestion issues linked to the diversion of vehicles onto Fowler Road,” an Australia Post spokesperson said.
“Our Dandenong Letter Centre processes 99 per cent of all letters sent within Victoria along with one third of small parcels.
“The safety of our people remains our highest priority.
“Australia Post continues to work with the project and is now considering next steps.”
In June, surrounding businesses signed a 765-strong petition which was tabled in State Parliament by Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams. However the contract for the works was awarded six days later.
While Mr Hamer is in full support of the level-crossing removal project overall, he’d like to see a rail overpass as has been the case in other crossing removals, rather than a complete closure.
“Why has the overpass or other suggestions been rejected outright?”
Councillor Rhonda Garad also asked the question after Greater Dandenong Council meeting with the LXRP back in August.
“If it’s a cost issue – are these people being treated less fairly than others and why?
“There are so many unanswered questions and puzzles,” she said.
However, Victoria’s Big Build website states that road closure is the best option.
“It permits future developments and rail duplications, minimises impacts to utilities and local community infrastructure and is less disruptive to commuters and motorists.
“Other designs would have required a longer construction time and extensive shut down periods, with impacts to passengers on the entire Pakenham Line.”