By Mikayla van Loon
For anyone driving around Lilydale during peak times, it’s not hard to notice the increased traffic and poor movement throughout the main sections of town.
The onflow of the Cave Hill Road and Melba Avenue closure at the level crossing on 24 January has already caused havoc for many drivers and has only confirmed initial worries for emergency responders.
Lilydale CFA captain Warren Davis said the closure has forced Hutchinson, John and Hardy Street to bear the brunt, as well as Maroondah Highway.
“Not too many people realise if, for example, there was a major incident at the intersection of Hutchison Street and John Street, at those traffic lights the Bunnings, if there was a major incident there being a power pole, tree or power lines, or a motor vehicle accident, comes down and blocks the road, nobody can get out of that area,” he said.
“That’s the shopping centre, no one will be able to get in there or leave. The university. Now at the rear of the university, you’ve got Scope, which has intellectually challenged adults in there. You’ve then got all of the factories, you’ve got the power company and then you’ve got the school.
“You’re looking at thousands of people who could be stuck in that area there because there’s only one road in one road out and that’s dangerous. That’s very, very dangerous.”
Mr Davis said all it would take is a minor accident during the school peak to bring the main roads around Lilydale to a standstill.
Commenters on social media have also voiced concerns about the congestion.
“It’s ridiculous, the traffic is already so congested and this is going to make it even worse,” one person said.
“Wow that road can be a nightmare at school time already,” another person added.
Another person asked about the ability to make a u-turn near Lilydale High School’s Melba Avenue entrance.
It was advised that anyone dropping students at school should use the Hutchinson Street basketball stadium entrance.
“No turn around point set up at the moment and gravel area opposite staff car park is being used as site offices. It’s all pretty close to the road, going to be a nightmare. I recommend doing drop off and pick up at the stadium so you can drive through.”
A member of the Lilydale High School staff said “I will just say, come and have a look at traffic flow around the school”, noting that it clearly is having an impact.
Calling it “effectively brainless” and a “political agenda” to make the Lilydale line the first level crossing free train service, Mr Davis said not even having the opportunity as a local brigade captain to put forward ideas or suggestions was wrong.
“It has been done without a process of consulting emergency responders to say, if we close this down, would it make an impact on the town of Lilydale? Well, the answer is yes, it will.
“They’re using the excuse that the crossing is being removed because there’s been an incident at the location.
“There hasn’t. I’ve been in the fire brigade for 47 years and I’ve never once responded to a car incident into a train at the intersection.
“It’s now created an incident which is bound to happen and there will be drastic consequences as a result of it.”
The Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) said from its traffic modelling, the closure would have minimal impact on the immediate Lilydale road network, with low usage of the intersection.
A spokesperson said consultation with the community occurred in early 2023, with the school informed of the decision and how to get around once the road was closed.
“The project team regularly communicates with emergency services, schools and the local community to make them aware of upcoming works, and to provide information on alternative routes to safely cross the rail line,” the spokesperson said.
Not only expressing concerns about the increased danger for drivers, Mr Davis said the response of his brigade members and other emergency responders is being hindered.
“We struggle to get to the fire station and that’s the major problem. Every member of the fire brigade has to travel through traffic signals, and every intersection and they are all overflowing and some of our members just cannot get there in time to catch the truck,” Mr Davis said.
“The other issue is you’ve got responding emergency vehicles coming down from Chirnside who would go down Cave Hill Road and then go over that level crossing, to make access to the event on the other side, now they can’t, they’ve got to come down and join in the line of traffic.”
The LXRP said emergency services including Victoria Police, Fire Rescue Victoria and Ambulance Victoria were notified of the closure prior to 24 January and have not received any feedback regarding concerns of safety or impact.
Mr Davis said it’s only going to get worse as Kinley estate grows and people begin moving into properties.
“They need to rethink the whole project and sit down and discuss with the local emergency service workers both police, fire and ambulance, State Emergency Service and also the local council.
“Crossing work should be seized and I certainly think they should be widening it to alleviate all the problems from the high school and the new Kinley state which is about to open up.”