M1 / A1 Princes Hwy/Fwy East

History behind the road

Short Princes Hwy alignment - Article written by Sam Laybutt  

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The Princes Highway East[1] extends from the Kings Bridge over the Yarra River in Melbourne to the NSW/VIC Border near Genoa in East Gippsland Shire. The highway has three route markers over its length: Alternative National Route 1 between Melbourne and Narre Warren[2]; M1 between Narre Warren and Traralgon; and A1 between Traralgon and the NSW Border. This article will concentrate on the A1 and M1 sections of the highway. For information on the highway west of Narre Warren please see the Alt-1 page.


The original road to the east was to reach the Port of Sale and was nothing more than a coaching route. The original route can be traced nowadays by deviating from the existing highway at Robin Hood, thence following ‘Old Sale Road’ through Brandy Creek and Buln Buln East to Moe. From Moe it passed through the present location of the Yallourn mine and today the road reappears north of Morwell, heading directly east to Traralgon. The existing highway – which closely follows the railway line for its entire length between Melbourne and Sale – was preferred over the old coaching route towards the end of the 1800s due to its proximity to the rail line. However, it was not a very good road and the swampy terrain often made it impassable.


The Princes Highway as we know it was born on the 19th of October 1920, named the Prince’s Highway in a ceremony at Bulli Pass, NSW. Despite the name, it was hardly a highway at first. The Country Roads Board’s (CRB) first annual report (1913) records that “the main Gippsland road between the adjacent population centres such as Drouin, Warragul and Trafalgar is in an impassable condition in winter months.”[3] It was therefore no coincidence that the first contract to be completed for the CRB was on the Princes Highway in the Shire of Warragul. The site of this first completed contract now houses a memorial to William Calder, the CRB’s first chairman. Such was the Board’s swift work that at the time of naming, six years after work first began, 500 miles of a total 593 miles of the Princes Highway “were at the time in good order and trafficable in all seasons.”[4]

In January 1925 the State Highways and Vehicles Act 1924 became operative, amending the Country Roads Act by providing for the declaration of State Highways, the construction and maintenance of which would be the sole responsibility of the CRB. It was under this Act that on 1 January 1925 the Princes Highway East was officially declared a State Highway in Victoria. Following this declaration the CRB began the massive task of providing a dust free surface along the length of the highway – a massive job that would take forty-two years. One of the first major projects to be completed on the highway was the construction of a pre-cast concrete U-slab bridge across the Tambo River at Johnsonville - constructed 1930-32.


While the Board was doing its best to improve the highway, mother nature seemed to do all she could to stop them. Following the deterioration of the highway during the war, not only due to a lack of maintenance but also due to increased heavy traffic immediately following the war, further damage was caused in the late 40’s and early 50s by a series of damaging floods. Pavement failure was experienced on numerous lengths of highway, culminating with the collapse of the bridge over the Avon River at Stratford on the 5th of April 1950. The highway was closed for nearly a month while the Board waited for flood waters to subside and constructed a temporary bailey bridge. A new permanent bridge (that is still in use today) was not completed until 1964/65.


Nonetheless the Board relentlessly continued their program of reconstruction with a deviation at Mount Raymond (east of Orbost) opening in 1951/52 and a new bridge over the Mitchell River at Bairnsdale opening on 13 August 1958.


From here onwards the development of the highway falls into two quite distinct sections: the development of a four-lane highway from Traralgon to Melbourne and the upgrading to ‘A’ standards of the remainder of the highway. For this reason I shall now split the article into two sections: Narre Warren to Traralgon and Traralgon to the NSW Border.

M1 Section


In 1956 legislation was passed enabling the CRB to construct “bypass roads” and operate them as restricted access facilities. Not long after this legislation was enacted, the State Electricity Commission (SEC) announced the proposed expansion of their brown coal mine at Yallourn, necessitating the relocation of the Princes Highway East. The CRB took this opportunity to construct the highway on a much improved vertical and horizontal alignment while providing complete access control. A new route was selected from west of Moe, passing to the south of the town and the proposed mine expansion to join the existing highway on the western side of Morwell. As with most major projects, it was programmed for stage construction, the ultimate outcome being that of a four-lane dual carriageway fully grade-separated facility allowing travel at speeds of 100km/h.


Construction of the new alignment began in 1959/60, between the junction of the existing highway and the Yallourn North main road at Hernes Oak and Toners Lane, Morwell. This section involved the upgrading of a local road and railway overbridge in the tiny hamlet of Hernes Oak as an interim connection, and 4km of single-carriageway, limited access road. This first stage was completed in 1960/61 and was declared ‘Princes Bypass Road’ except for the section through Hernes Oak. This first stage allowed the SEC commence expansion of the mine.


The second stage of the Moe-Morwell deviation was commenced in 1963/64, involving the construction of three miles of single carriageway road between Hernes Oak and Gunns Gully (Newborough), bypassing the Haunted Hills section of the Princes Highway. This stage was opened to traffic during December 1964 and, at this time, did not include an overpass at Hernes Oak.


Stage three, the bypass of Moe, was commenced soon afterwards in conjunction with the subdivision of the Moe Heights area as part of the Government’s decentralisation strategy. The Moe Bypass, initially with at-grade intersections at West Moe and Gunns Gully was opened to traffic during 1968/69. Following the opening of the bypass, duplication of the entire Moe-Morwell section was begun. A duplicate carriageway was opened between the Morwell River and Gunns Gully, in 1971/72, followed by the Hernes Oak Interchange in 1974/75, and the Gunns Gully Interchange a year later before duplication was completed in 1979.


Meanwhile, the CRB was also duplicating the highway through Morwell and Traralgon. 1.6 miles of dual carriageway – between McDonald Street and Monash Way – in Morwell was completed in 1967, adjoining the duplicate Morwell River bridges which would be completed in 1971/72. In Traralgon, Victorian Railways commenced construction of a bridge across the Traralgon-Maffra rail line in 1968/69. The bridge would be 50 feet wide and carry two traffic lanes while provision was made for future duplication of the bridge. The bridge was completed in 1970/71. This was then followed by construction of dual carriageways between Traralgon and Morwell, constructed in 1972-76. Other, small sections of dual carriageway were constructed in other towns along the highway, namely 0.5 miles in Warragul (1963/64), another 0.5 miles in Warragul (1971/72), 0.8 miles through Yarragon (1973/74) and the completion of 4-laning between Narre Warren and Beaconsfield (1968-76).


Not long after the Moe Bypass was completed, work began on the Drouin Bypass – the next instalment of freeway that the CRB has been planning since 1976. This 8km section of freeway took motorists from a point midway between Drouin and Warragul, near Lardner Track, to the existing highway just south of Old Sale Road. The Drouin Bypass was opened to traffic on 12 December 1981. Almost immediately following the opening of the Drouin Bypass work commenced on the eastward extension of the freeway – the Warragul Bypass. The Warragul Bypass was opened to traffic on 12 December 1985, in time for Christmas although too early to have a direct connection to dual carriageways at its eastern end. Instead, the Road Construction Authority (RCA) constructed the new carriageway for 3km near Nilma so that freeway traffic would not have to negotiate the existing substandard pavement. Thus, following opening, the RCA reconstructed the existing carriageway and opened the dual carriageway conditions to motorists in February 1986.


Meanwhile, further east, the Berwick Bypass opened to traffic on 14 December 1983. This $17.7 million, 7km freeway bypassed the frequently congested town centre of Berwick, which had only been provided with dual carriageways fifteen years earlier, and the steeply graded Beaconsfield Hill. The eastern end of the bypass at Officer is only an interim highway alignment until the Pakenham Bypass is completed.


With the completion of three major town bypasses in the early 1980s it was time to fill in the gaps in the dual carriageway conditions. Dual carriageways had been provided east from Beaconsfield, through Officer to Pakenham by 1978 and were extended to Nar Nar Goon in 1982. That left two majors gaps in the system: Nar Nar Goon to Drouin and Moe River to Moe East.


The first project to commence was the section from Nar Nar Goon to Tynong, which opened on 10 April 1987. This was followed on 2 June 1989 by an easterly extension to the Bunyip River, with small deviations at Garfield North and Bunyip. Meanwhile, construction was also progressing on a bypass of Morwell, which was squeezed between the southern limits of the urban area and the northern extremity of the SEC’s Hazlewood Coal Mine. The first stage, from the Moe River to Monash Way, opened to traffic in April 1990. Constructed in conjunction with Stage 1 of the bypass was the extension of Commercial Road (C475 Loy Yang-Morwell Road) east to connect with Monash Way and Firmins Lane. Stage 2, which included twin bridges over the railway line east of Morwell, was opened to traffic on 8 April 1992. The provision of dual carriageways between Melbourne and Warragul was completed in January 1994 with the opening of Princes Freeway (Longwarry Section).


Further east, the RCA and then Vicroads, had been working on the extension of dual carriageways through Traralgon. As was the way in Victoria, the Princes Highway originally passed by Traralgon Post Office via Franklin St and Post Office Place. In May 1984 the RCA opened to traffic a dual carriageway deviation that bypassed the Traralgon CBD to the east, using an upgraded section of Mill Street. The deviation encompassed the provision of dual carriageways from the Hyland Highway (C482) intersection to Grey Street (C477). The dual carriageways were then extended east to their present terminus, at McNairn Road, on 12 June 1992. During this stage, Vicroads removed the railway overpass and embankments that had been constructed twenty years earlier. The closure of the Traralgon-Maffra line meant there was no longer a need for twin 2-lane overpasses in this area.


Following the completion of both the Morwell and Traralgon works, attention turned to duplicating the highway between Moe and the Moe River. Short sections of dual carriageway existed through the towns of Yarragon and Trafalgar but were both replaced with the new alignment taking them much closer to the railway line. This final section of upgrades was completed in five stages: Stage 1 – Yarragon (June 1993) Stage 2 – Moe River to Yarragon (July 1994); and Stage 3 – Trafalgar to Kennys Road (August 1995); Stage 4 – Kennys Road to Moe (June 1997); and Stage 5 – Yarragon to Trafalgar (June 1997) completed the project. Further to this, grade separated interchanges were constructed at both Darnum (May 1997) and Nilma (February 2001) in order to provide full access control between Nar Nar Goon and the Moe River.


The future:

The Route 1, Route 620 Corridor Strategy: Princes Highway East Dandenong to NSW Border, released in 1997, noted that the Princes Highway East between Melbourne and Traralgon would be developed to a divided carriageway ‘M’ standard road between Melbourne and Traralgon, with freeway bypasses of Hallam and Pakenham and other sections initially built as duplicated highway and later converted to freeway. This objective has been somewhat fulfilled with the opening of interchanges at Darnum (May 1997) and Nilma (Feb 2001) as well as the Hallam Bypass in July 2003. The Pakenham Bypass is currently under construction and due for completion in late 2007 which will complete the freeway between Melbourne and Yarragon.


The construction priorities identified for the Melbourne-Traralgon section are as follows (in priority order):

  • Progress towards full freeway conditions between Dandenong and Traralgon

  • Darnum Interchange (opened May 1997)

  • Hallam Bypass (July 2003)

  • Seal median shoulders on Moe-Morwell section

  • Seal shoulders from Beaconsfield to Longwarry and intersection improvements between Officer and Nar Nar Goon

  • Construct the Pakenham Bypass (commenced mid-2005) after the Hallam Bypass is completed

  • Long term bypasses for Yarragon, Trafalgar and Traralgon and interchanges at Nar Nar Goon and Sand Rd (C421), Longwarry.


Original Haunted Hills alignment (1937)

Morwell Bypass Construction (1987)

Section of Princes Fwy today

Old National Route 1 sign at Hernes Oak interchange

Old section of highway through Longwarry North









A1 Section


As part of the CRB’s program of reconstructing and sealing the Princes Highway East, a 10 mile (16km) deviation of the highway between the McKenzie River and Cann River was commenced in 1959/59. The existing highway took a 15 mile substandard, narrow, winding and tortuous route through Club Terrace and this new deviation would not only provide a sealed surface on a much improved alignment but also provide a distance saving of 5 miles (~7.6km). Although still largely without a bitumen surface, the deviation was opened to traffic during 1961/62 and subsequently sealed.


The sixties was also a time of beautification for towns along the Princes Highway East. A number of lengths of divided road were constructed during the 1960s including through Stratford (1961/62) and Sale (1963/64 & 1971/72). A new bridge was opened across the Avon River at Stratford in 1964/65, replacing the one that was completely destroyed in the April 1950 floods and the bailey bridge that had carried highway traffic for the subsequent fourteen years. Similar flooding problems were overcome at Sale on 6 December 1962 when the Sale Causeway was opened to traffic. Following the disastrous floods of the late 40s and early 50s, action was taken to ensure the highway was flood-free at Sale. A new high-level bridge, several feet higher than the highest recorded flood level, was constructed across the Thomson River, accompanied by five smaller bridges and a long, high embankment.


But by far the biggest milestone the highway passed in the 1960s was the completion of a sealed surface from Melbourne to the NSW Border via the Princes Highway. Following a 1.5km realignment between Genoa and the border in 1961/62, the remaining 15km or so was completed in December 1966 and accompanied by a deviation and new bridge across Hospital Creek at Tostaree. A ceremony took place on 17 Jan 1967 to mark the special occasion. The final project to be completed in the 1970s was the construction of a railway overpass at Kilmany, between Rosedale and Sale in 1967/68.


By far the largest and most important project on the Princes Highway in the 1970s was the Orbost Bypass, of which a substantial part was a new, high-level bridge across the Snowy River. The first bridge over the river, a timber structure with a central suspended span of about 150 feet, was constructed in the late 1800s. After the conclusion of the first World War, the Victorian Railways considered an extension of the railhead across the river into Orbost, and in 1922 a new timber and steel girder structure, a joint CRB-VR venture, was completed. The railway was not taken across the river but the bridge was still put into good use carrying highway traffic and until the 1970s was still serving the purpose. The bridge had been severely battered by floods during its life. In 1934 two central spans were swept away and were subsequently replaced by a welded steel truss. In 1952 further damage resulted in extensive repairs to piling at the western end of the welded truss and in February 1971 the entire Orbost abutment was washed away. The highway approaches were also on very poor alignments and several serious accidents had occurred at the Orbost end. In times of heavy flood, the highway on both sides of the river had been cut by floodwaters and during the 1971 floods, the highest ever recorded, the river was a mile wide at the crossing. The new alignment provides a flood plain crossing of 6,640 feet, sited just downstream of the existing river bridge and railway, at the narrowest section of the floodplain. Commencing on the high ground of the Newmeralla bank, the first bridge – across Ashbys Gulch – is 1960 feet long, the second – across Watts Gulch – is 700 feet long and the third – across the Snowy River itself and a nearby lagoon to high ground at the Orbost end – is 1240 feet long. Construction of the bridges commenced in January 1975, with a view to opening the bridge across the river itself as soon as possible. Less than two years later, on 25 November 1976, the bridge across the Snowy River was opened to traffic, allowing the old bridge to be demolished. The remainder of the Orbost Bypass, both the floodplain crossings and the eastern section around the township itself, was declared ‘Princes Freeway’ and opened to traffic in December 1977. Complementing the opening of the Princes Freeway (Orbost Section) were the completion of new bridges at Cann River and a 0.7 mile section of dual carriageway through Bairnsdale (both completed during 1975/76).


In 1983 the RCA, with some financial assistance from the Federal Government, commenced a program to replace the remaining timber bridges on the Princes Highway East. By October 1984 five bridges had been replaced between Cann River and Genoa, although motorists had to wait until July 1989 for a new high-level flood-free route bypassing the single-lane timber truss bridge across the Genoa River. The program was finally completed with new bridges across the Brodribb River (1990/91) and Toolern Arm (22/8/1991).



The Route 1, Route 620 Corridor Strategy: Princes Highway East Dandenong to NSW Border, released in 1997 identified future improvements to the highway in the short and long terms. Key components of the strategy include the duplication of the highway between Traralgon and Sale in the long term and the alternative route from Bairnsdale to Nowa Nowa via Bruthen will be upgraded to ‘A’ standard and ultimately will be reclassified as the Princes Highway. The existing highway is then proposed to become the B600 Gippsland Lakes Highway.


Construction priorities identified in the strategy are as follows (in priority order):

  • Improve the safety and efficiency of the highway between Traralgon and the NSW Border by sealing road shoulders, widening narrow pavement sections, addressing local safety concerns, constructing additional overtaking lanes and improving alignment of specific locations

  • Develop the Bruthen alternative route by providing major intersection improvements at Nowa Nowa, the construction of overtaking lanes, pavement widening and other safety issues

  • Replace North Arm bridge at Lakes Entrance

  • Develop a truck bypass for Sale town centre

  • Commence progressive duplication of the highway between Traralgon and Sale

  • Alignment improvements from Orbost to Brodribb River and east of Cabbage Tree Ck

The strategy also notes that some sections of the highway, particularly east of Orbost, will be developed with lower geometric standards sue to complex topographical and environmental issues.



[1] Named as such to differentiate between the two sections of Princes Highway in Victoria – east and west of Melbourne. The two sections of highway never meet and there currently exists a gap of about 4km between the two in central Melbourne.

[2] Although the 500m section of Princes Hwy between the West Gate Freeway and Kings Bridge is signed as National Route 79, it is not significant when referring to the highway as a whole.

[3] Anderson, W.K.; Roads for the People; 1994; p.60

[4] Anderson, W.K.; Roads for the People; 1994; p.60


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