Princes Hwy West / Princes Fwy West

The story behind the road

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Princes Fwy West southbound between Western Ring Rd and Kororiot Creek Rd. Jan 2005

Article written by Sam Laybutt.

The Princes Highway West, including those sections gazetted as freeways, stretches 449km from the intersection of Flemington Rd & Racecourse Rd at Flemington to the South Australian border near Mt Gambier, serving the districts of Werribee, Geelong, Warrnambool, and Portland. It forms the western part of the Princes Highway in Victoria[1], a major interstate highway connecting Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.  

The name Prince’s Highway was bestowed upon the main coastal road from Sydney to Melbourne and thence to Adelaide to commemorate the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1920. The naming ceremony took place at Bulli Pass, near Wollongong NSW, on 19 October 1920. At this stage, the sections of the ‘highway’ in Victoria were gazetted as Main Roads under the Country Roads Act and it wasn’t until January 1925, when the State Highways and Vehicles Act 1924 came into operation, that the Princes Highway West was gazetted as a highway. The 1925 declaration stretched from the SA border to Kororoit Creek and while the remainder of the route into Melbourne was named a highway it was not gazetted as such. In 1930 the gazetted highway was extended east to Williamstown Road at Footscray, then extended to Lynchs Bridge in 1960 and by 1982 had been extended to its current terminus at Flemington Road.  

For many years following the opening of the Maltby Bypass Road at Werribee, the Princes Highway remained a gazetted state highway through the town. This meant that there was some duplication of the route, with the Princes Freeway bypassing the town to the south, and both were considered a state responsibility. Following a realignment of the highway at Werribee town centre during the mid 1980s the Princes Hwy was decommissioned through Hoppers Crossing and Werribee some time between 1987 and 1991.

The Road Management Act 2004 replaced the traditional State Highway, Freeway, Main Road, Tourists’ Road and Forest Road classifications with a more simplified system of Freeway, Arterial (Highway) and Arterial (Other). The Princes Highway West was re-gazetted accordingly.  

Today the Princes Highway West is gazetted as Arterial (Highway) #1500 from Flemington to the Western Ring Road and from the Corio Rail Overpass at Geelong to the South Australian Border.  Between the Western Ring Road and Corio the highway is classified as Freeway #6600 - the Princes Freeway.  

For the purposes of construction history, it is easiest to split the Princes Highway West into three sections:

  • Metropolitan Route 83 (Flemington-Kororoit Creek)

  • M1 (Kororoit Creek-Waurn Ponds)

  • A1 (from Waurn Ponds to the South Australian border).


Metropolitan Route 83
(Flemington to Kororoit Creek)

This section has been usurped as the main through route by the West Gate Freeway and, although it has carried the Princes Highway name since 1920, it was only declared a State Highway as far as Flemington Road in 1982. The 1954 Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme provided for an enhanced Princes Highway West route as far as Lynchs Bridge to compliment the West Gate Freeway and although it was dropped from the 1969 Metropolitan Transportation Committee plan it has been largely achieved.  

The Country Roads Board began work on the highway in 1926 when it applied a spray-and-chip seal to the 6km of highway through Footscray and Brooklyn. The crossing of Kororoit Creek at Brooklyn had historically proven to be a challenge to all types of vehicles and thus the Board constructed the ‘Guiding Star Deviation’ in 1930 to provide a straighter alignment with a 3 per cent grade. In 1937, when funds were first allocated for metropolitan works, the Board began preserving land for the future duplication of the highway, a job which it commenced in 1955.  

In 1955 the Country Roads Board began a widening program for the Princes Highway West with the aim of providing dual carriageways for the entire length between Brooklyn and Norlane (North Geelong). Work was commenced at Kororoit Creek and had been completed to Millers Rd in 1956/57, to Somerville Road in 1960/61, to Geelong Street in 1965/66, through Footscray in 1956/57 and from Nicholson Street to Lynchs Bridge in 1963/64. The Brooklyn railway overpass was opened to traffic in 1963/64, replacing a level crossing, and in June 1970 the Country Roads Board commenced replacement of the four-lane railway overpass at Footscray. The new six-lane overpass replaced a nineteenth century four-lane timber bridge and was opened to traffic in late 1973.

The last major work was undertaken by Vicroads between April 1991 and April 1992 - the duplication of Lynchs Bridge. This crossing of the Maribyrnong River was first established in the 1850s as a ferry crossing, replaced by a bridge in 1866. The original Lynchs Bridge was severely damaged by floodwaters in 1934 and was subsequently replaced by a four-lane bridge in 1938. Vicroads constructed a new two lane bridge to carry eastbound traffic during 1991/92 and narrowed the older bridge to two lanes to carry westbound traffic. Since this project was completed there have been no major projects proposed or completed for this section of the highway.

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Princes Hwy through Footscray

Deviation at Kororiot Creek. CRB Annual Report 1956/1957.


M1 Section
(Kororoit Creek to Waurn Ponds)

Geelong Road 

The first Annual Report of the Country Roads Board in 1914 notes that “In the case of the Melbourne-Geelong Road, however, a short section near Little River appears never to have been constructed, while other extensive sections are in such condition that reconstruction is now necessary and contracts are already in progress for sections of the road near the township of Werribee.”[2] Considerable work was done on the highway between 1915 and 1917 to bring it up to all-weather standard and the Board’s 1920 annual report states that the CRB had “completed the Melbourne to Geelong Road.”[3] In 1926, following proclamation of the Princes Highway West as a State Highway, the CRB began sealing the road. The work included the construction of 47 new culverts to bring the carriageway width to 12m and was completed in 1930.  

In 1939 the Commonwealth funded the construction of a 10km deviation of the highway at Laverton, including a new railway overpass, to permit the expansion of the RAAF airfield. A subway at Kororoit Creek Road allowed explosives trucks travelling between Deer Park and Altona along Fitzgerald Rd and Merton Street to avoid crossing the highway at grade.[4] 

In 1955 the CRB commenced the duplication of pavements on certain sections of State Highways, in particular the Princes Highway between Brooklyn and Norlane.[5] Construction included new duplicate railway bridges at Corio and a new railway overpass at Laverton. The railway overpass at Corio was completed in 1958, followed by the sections between Kororoit Creek and Hoppers Crossing and from Little River to Norlane in 1960. Dual carriageways were completed for the entire length between Brooklyn and Norlane on 16 June 1961 when the ‘Maltby Bypass’ at Werribee opened to traffic. The 10km bypass, located to the south of Werribee township, was the first ‘freeway’ to open in Victoria and was named after Sir Thomas K. Maltby, Minister for Public Works from 1955 to 1961. Upon opening, the Maltby Bypass was proclaimed a ‘Bypass Road’ under the Country Roads Amendment (Bypass Roads) Act 1956, meaning the Princes Highway through Werribee remained a State Highway. It was not decommissioned until sometime between 1987 and 1991.  

In 1963 the Country Roads Board noted in its Annual Report that “Plans have been completed to permit the declaration of a further section of the Princes Bypass Road between Kororoit Creek at Brooklyn and the Maltby Bypass Road. Declaration of this section will increase the length of controlled access roadway between Melbourne and Geelong from 6.2mi to 14.1mi.”[6] Further investigations were commenced in 1965 to convert the Princes Highway between the Maltby Bypass Road and Corio Bypass Road[7] and approval was given in 1968/69 to convert the Highway to freeway standards by the construction of interchanges at Little River, Avalon and Lara, and the restriction of access elsewhere. This approval was given as part of a network of rural freeways and expressways that had been adopted in principle by the Board for future planning purposes. An overpass at Kororoit Creek (later duplicated as part of the Geelong Road upgrade) was completed in 1969/70 and the Lara interchange followed in 1970/71. In the same year, interchanges at High St/Newland St and Point Cook Rd, Laverton opened to traffic, raising this section to freeway standards. In 1973/74 the upgrade the freeway standards was complete with the re-declaration of 15mi of the highway near Lara as part of the Princes Freeway.  

The next improvements came to the section of Princes Highway at Werribee where, in 1977/78 work was commenced to duplicate the highway between Hoppers Crossing and Wattle Avenue and realign the highway in Werribee from Cherry St and Watton St to Synnot Street. The duplication was completed in June 1983 and the realignment followed in December 1983. These works proved to be last of note on the highway at Werribee as it was decommissioned between 1987 and 1991.  

The Princes Freeway was opened to cyclists, which had previously been prohibited from all freeways in Victoria, in September 1988 after the State Government had recognised that often there was no alternative route available for cyclists, particularly in cases where the freeway had been created by simply duplicating the existing road. One year later, in December 1989, a grade-separated diamond interchange was opened to traffic at Forsyth Road to serve the rapidly growing Werribee/Hoppers Crossing urban area. This interchange is now slated for an upgrade as the Point Cook area is developed.  

The construction of a third Melbourne-bound lane from Corio to Lara in 1993/94 will be remembered as the prelude to a complete reconstruction of the Princes Freeway West, popularly known as the Geelong Road. The Geelong Road Upgrade, partly funded as a Road of National Importance by the Federal Government, was commenced in 1999 with the construction of a new interchange at the Geelong end of the Maltby Bypass to replace a right-hand merge. Work on the other four sections - Laverton to Werribee; Maltby Bypass; Little River section and Lara to Corio section - to provide eight lanes east of Werribee and six lanes the remainder of the way to Geelong was commenced during the first half of 2000. The last section of the upgrade was opened to traffic in November 2002 although landscaping and other works were not completed until the winter of 2003. Some key components of the upgrade included: duplication of Kororoit Creek overpass, a new direct exit from Melbourne-bound lanes to the eastbound lanes of Kororoit Creek Rd, improvements to the Geelong-bound offramp at Forsyth Road, reconstruction of the interchanges either end of the Maltby Bypass, three new bridges at the Corio interchange including a new link to Broderick Road, and the removal of several substandard bridges to open the road up to higher mass limits. Geelong Road now carries over 100,000 vpd near the Western Ring Road and over 40,000 vpd near Corio.  

Geelong Section 

In 1953/54 the Country Roads Board commenced the setting back of houses on the future alignment of the Princes Highway at Norlane, which would be widened to six lanes with service roads. Upgrading of the highway through Geelong was commenced in 1959 with the reconstruction of High Street, Belmont, following the removal of tram lines and the extension of dual carriageways from the Corio Overpass south to Arunga Ave, Norlane. In 1961/62 the dual carriageways reached Separation Street at Geelong North where, in 1969/70, a six lane railway overpass was completed. In 1969/70 dual carriageways were completed between the Separation Street rail overpass and Bell Parade and between Settlement Rd (current highway) and Anglesea Road and the following year dual carriageways were completed south to La Trobe Terrace at Geelong West.

The Princes Highway followed a narrow and congested route of Mercer St, Malop St, Moorabool St and High Street through Geelong and Belmont, crossing the Barwon River on the two-lane Barwon Bridge, constructed in 1926/28. This bridge was widened to four lanes in 1966/67 but it was evident a new route was need to bypass the Geelong CBD. Fortunately, the Country Roads Board’s excellent post-war planning meant that following the Geelong Transportation Study land was acquired and reserved for a future inner city bypass of Geelong in 1949/50. Construction commenced in 1978/79, beginning with the railway overpass at the northern end of La Trobe Terrace, and the first stage (widening of La Trobe Terrace to six lanes between Mercer St and Fyans St) was opened to traffic on 3 December 1982. Construction of the second stage, comprising the duplication of Settlement Road and a new four-lane bridge over the Barwon River between La Trobe Terrace and Settlement Road. Initially the Road Construction Authority claimed the bridge would open in September 1988 but some construction delays resulted in a loss of two years and the bridge was officially opened on 21 September 1990. Thus, the James Harrison Bridge, named after a Scotsman who achieved great prominence as an inventor, journalist, editor and politician in Victoria in the nineteenth century, and Settlement Road replaced High Street as the route of the Princes Highway.  

However, while the bypass removed through traffic from the Geelong CBD and provided some temporary relief to traffic congestion, the Princes Highway has again become a major bottleneck through Geelong, especially in peak periods, and Vicroads have quoted that a trip through Geelong can take up to an hour[8]. This can be attributed to the rise in popularity of the Great Ocean Road following its full sealing in 1988 and of course the growth in population. A bypass to the west of Geelong, between Corio and Waurn Ponds, is proposed to remove through traffic from Geelong, although a connection to the Surfcoast Highway would be needed to achieve maximum benefit. The concept of a Geelong Bypass on the Princes Freeway is not new, first being recognised in the early 1950s and subsequently a 105m wide reservation was established to the west of existing development in 1959. In 1970 consultants were commissioned to undertake an assessment of the Geelong road system with the objective of determining a suitable strategy for the period 1971-1991. The result of the study was the recommendation that a Central Freeway be constructed through the centre of Geelong (along the line of the current Princes Hwy) but the proposal caused considerable controversy and was not accepted by either the Geelong Planning Authority or the Country Roads Board. Thus, the Geelong Planning Authority determined that a comprehensive study of road options for the future and their social and environmental impacts would be undertaken before a decision was made. During 1973-1975 three alternative schemes were assessed in an Environmental Impact Statement which concluded that a strategy based on an outer freeway and various arterial improvements (including the upgrading of La Trobe Terrace) “was the most appropriate for Geelong.”[9] Thus, in 1976, a detailed study for an outer freeway reservation was commenced and the preferred option, an ultimate six-lane freeway with a 120-140m reservation, was subsequently incorporated into the Geelong Regional Planning Scheme in 1980. The proposal then lay dormant for many years until, in October 2002, the State Government released and endorsed the Geelong Ring Road Study, which recommended construction of the western bypass as an early priority. Federal funding was sought under the Roads of National Importance Program, and now under Auslink, and was gained, allowing Vicroads to commence pre-construction activity during mid-2005. Construction of the first of three stages, from Corio to the Midland Highway at Bell Post Hill, is slated to begin in late 2005 with the completion of the bypass as far as the Princes Hwy at Waurn Ponds scheduled for 2009. A decision is still pending for the alignment of the bypass south of Hamilton Highway.

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Duplicated Princes Hwy '24 miles' from Melbourne. CRB Annual Report 1959/1960.


Duplicated Princes Hwy at Norlane. CRB Annual Report 1961/1962

Princes Hwy south Midland Hwy.

AD sign on Princes Hwy before South Valley Rd.

Princes Hwy east of
Anglesea Rd.


A1 Section
(Waurn Ponds to SA Border) 

Early work on this section of the highway was concentrated on providing a dust-free surface along the length of the highway, an aim that was achieved during 1950/51. Other work included the replacement of a number of old timber bridges over a number of years, including a new bridge over Shaw River in 1952/53 which replaced a timber bridge built in 1858 on a poor alignment.  

Following the establishment of the joint rail level crossing elimination fund in 1955 attention turned to the elimination of level crossings between Geelong and Portland. The first to go was the level crossing at Dennington, replaced in 1963/64 with a 1km deviation, including a railway overpass and a new crossing of the Merri River. Two major works followed in 1968/69 - 1.2mi of dual carriageway in Warrnambool, and a railway overpass at Winchelsea - and two were commenced - the Dartmoor Bypass, including a new bridge over the Glenelg River and floodplain, and a railway underpass at Garvoc, east of Warrnambool. The Garvoc railway underpass was completed the following year and, in 1969/70, construction of a railway overpass at Lyons was commenced.  

The frenzy of railway grade-separations continued well into the 1970s with the railway overpass at Lyons on 1 deviation opening in 1970/71, a 2.4km deviation with a new railway overpass at Allansford opening in 1974/75, a new railway overpass at Colac which replaced three level crossings opening in 1975/76, a railway overpass at Weerite in 1977/78 and finally a 2.1km deviation near Cudgee which included a new railway overpass. The other significant project of the 1970s was the construction of the Dartmoor Bypass, subsequently declared part of the Princes Freeway (but has since been re-gazetted as Princes Hwy), which provided a new bridge of the Glenelg River on a much improved alignment. This project replaced a narrow timber bridge on a poor alignment and was a project in the same vein as the Orbost and Genoa Bypasses on Princes Highway East.  

1980/81 saw the opening of a 4.1km deviation at Bolwarra, the last major project on the highway west of Geelong to date, with work concentrated on Geelong through the 1980s and 1990s. In 1997 the State Government released its Princes Highway West A1 Corridor Strategy as part of the Linking Victoria program, prioritising investment on the highway over the next twenty to thirty years. The strategy provides for an ultimate ‘M’ standard road between Waurn Ponds and Colac and an ‘A’ standard road from Colac to the South Australian border, including 21 additional overtaking lanes. The following projects were identified for the Princes Highway West:

  • Staged duplication of the highway to ‘M’ standard between Waurn Ponds and Colac, including grade-separation at the Warncoort railway crossing, beginning with the section between Anglesea Rd and Cape Otway Rd.[10]
  • Construction of six overtaking lanes between Colac and Warrnambool.
  • Construction of seven overtaking lanes between Warrnambool and Portland
  • Investigations into the location of a future Port Fairy Bypass
  • Realignment of the highway between Port Fairy and Yambuk
  • Construction of eight overtaking lanes between Portland and Mt Gambier
  • Grade-separation of the Heathmere railway crossing
  • Planning for a truck route through Colac
  • Upgrade and increased signposting of C191 as an alternative route between Tyrendarra and Heywood, a distance saving of 19km over the current highway route.

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A1 Reassurance Directional sign westbound from C149.

RD southbound from Heywood.

Princes Hwy at Dartmoor. CRB Annual Report 1956/1957

[1] The Princes Highway has been gazetted as two different sections since the State Highways legislation was introduced in 1925 to differentiate between the highway east and west of Melbourne, in which there is a 4km gap.

[2] Victoria. Country Roads Board; 1st Annual Report; 1914; p.26-27

[3] Victoria. Country Roads Board; 6th Annual Report; 1920; p.3

[4] Lay, M.; Melbourne Miles: The Story of Melbourne’s Roads; 2003; p. 79

[5] Victoria. Country Roads Board; Fifty Years of Progress 1913-1963; 1963; p. 40

[6] Victoria. Country Roads Board; 50th Annual Report; 1963; p.28

[7] The Corio railway overpass an approaches was declared ‘Corio Bypass Road’ in 1958. In 1969 an amendment of the County Roads Act resulted in the Corio and Maltby Bypass Roads being re-gazetted as ‘Princes Freeway’.

[8] Vicroads; About Geelong Bypass (Online) Available from: ; April 2005; Accessed 21/9/2005

[9] Geelong Outer Freeway Study Committee; Geelong Transportation Plan Outer Freeway Reservation Study: Appraisal of Route Alternatives Vol. 1; March 1977; p.(i)

[10] The Strategy also notes that if duplication of the Waurn Ponds-Colac section is not completed within ten years, three additional overtaking lanes will need to be constructed at a cost of approximately $3 million


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