The fact that the Baillieu government is to embark upon a study for a possible freeway extension on the Mornington Peninsula is not that much of a surprise in the wake of the catastrophic decision of the predecessor Labor government to construct the $760 million Peninsula Link freeway between Carrum Downs and Dromana. In the absence of sensible policy intervention freeways provide impetus for ever more freeways.
On 14 June The Mornington Peninsula Leader reported Nepean state Liberal MP Martin Dixon to say that the Baillieu government is now to undertake a study which would examine three road expansion options south of Dromana to further increase the capacity of the road system. These included extending the Mornington Peninsula Freeway on the current reserve to Blairgowrie, creating an arterial road on the freeway reserve or upgrading Browns Road.
When the successful construction bid for Peninsula Link was announced in January 2010 by the then roads minister, Tim Pallas, he asserted that it would allow people to make the 27 kilometre trip from Carrum Downs to Mount Martha in 17 minutes. This is an average speed of about 95 kilometres per hour and no doubt a source of immediate appeal for many local residents resigned to continuing car use in the absence of any alternatives. He even had the cheek to say that it would be of benefit to the environment.
Government agenda hidden from public view
But the proposed roads study under the Baillieu government raises serious questions about the future of the Peninsula and the ability of successive state governments to run agendas hidden from public view. It remains a puzzle why the Brumby government should have outlaid over three quarters of a billion dollars of taxpayer’s money on a freeway heading towards the pointy end of a peninsula, much of which is designated as a “green wedge” whilst it continued to deny worthwhile funding for public transport and other measures to reduce car dependency in the area.
That Peninsula Link, now under construction, would inevitably induce substantial increases in road traffic on the Mornington Peninsula was a major concern for the many residents and transport policy experts who spoke out against the project in submissions to the Environmental Effects Statement inquiry process that ultimately rubber stamped the project in April 2009.
Auditor-General slams Peninsula Link decision
Concerns about the questionable origins of Peninsula Link were further validated recently when the Victorian Auditor-General tabled a highly critical report in the Parliament(1).
The Auditor- General found that the estimated economic benefits of the project calculated by the Linking Melbourne Authority (known as the Southern and Eastern Integrated Transport Authority until July 2009) were unreliable. The Auditor-General also criticised the analysis provided by the Linking Melbourne Authority for its analysis of whether Peninsula Link should have proceeded as a public sector project or (as ultimately decided) a public-private partnership (PPP). Specifically the Auditor-General found that there were flaws in the way the Linking Melbourne Authority estimated the cost of state delivery as represented by the public sector comparator (PSC) and because it did not test the sensitivity of the relative costs of the PSC and PPP bids to small changes in the PPP discount rate. In forecasting traffic for Peninsula Link by assuming that drivers responded to the improvement by changing their travel routes the Auditor-General found that the Linking Melbourne Authority ignored the potential traffic growth from journey destination, mode and time of travel, and the additional journeys generated where Peninsula Link stimulated new development. According to the Auditor-General, ignoring these factors underestimated traffic and overestimated the economic benefits of the project. The audit also unearthed the fact that the wider traffic impacts of the project had been included in the Linking Melbourne Authority’s traffic estimates which meant that the traffic forecasts for the “with” and “without” Peninsula Link scenarios both included the higher demand expected once the project was in place. The Auditor-General concluded that applying the demand generated by Peninsula Link to a network without the project exaggerated existing congestion, thus overstating the scale of the problem and consequently inflating the congestion relief, travel time savings and economic benefits of the project. Importantly, The Auditor-General also found that the Linking Melbourne Authority did not consider as part of its analysis the amount of induced traffic that would be generated, as required by the Department of Transport’s guidance material. Nor, by averaging road performance across a 24-hour period had it properly measured benefits to be gained from the relief of peak period road congestion. All in all a very sloppy effort by the Linking Melbourne Authority.
A shovel ready project: is that what Peninsula Link was about?
The revelation by a senior transport authority source (2) that the Brumby government was looking for a “shovel-ready” project as an economic stimulus measure in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis was also damning. Whilst the Auditor-General found that the Linking Melbourne Authority’s estimate of the economic benefits of the project were unreliable and did not adequately communicate this uncertainty to government decision-makers it is questionable that this would have stopped a state government seemingly hell bent on proceeding with the project. It gives some credence to the cynical adage that it is often more difficult in government to misspend $50 in petty cash than hundreds of millions of tax payers’ dollars on a misconceived capital project with its attendant imposts on the community for decades to come.
The fact that Peninsula Link also proceeded despite the fact that the Commonwealth government declined to provide the matching funding requested by the Brumby government should have also called into serious question the effectiveness of the project. In any event, if economic stimulus was the primary motive for the project, it also started far too late to be useful as a local counter-cyclical employment generator in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. It has also been speculated more recently that much of the workforce on the project had been recruited from interstate.
What is to be studied and by whom?
In the wake of this mess the Baillieu government is seemingly preparing to spend additional taxpayer dollars to attract more motor traffic onto the Peninsula, and especially south of Dromana. Not much is known about the proposed $200,000 study. When, in response to the recent article in the Mornington Peninsula Leader I asked VicRoads, who are apparently to be in charge of the project, they were pretty tight lipped. There are no media releases, I was told, and its scope had not yet been determined, nor had timelines been considered for the report. Road safety was an issue, but it was not known whether particular routes would be targeted. And it was not known if the study would be conducted “in-house” by VicRoads or by consultants.
I asked whether the existing poor capability of public transport for residents and visitors would be addressed in the inquiry, and I also noted that the public transport service that does exist is particularly unsuited to meeting seasonal patterns in demand on the Peninsula. The idea that public transport capability should be addressed as part of the study might be considered a novelty , I deduced, which is well outside traditional patterns of thinking. This is despite the fact that dealing with seasonal congestion on the road system during summer is reportedly to be a significant part of the project.
All that is known with certainty is that the study has funding in 2011-12 and, I was assured, there would be “community consultation.”
A job for community activists
There is clearly a major job of work required to be undertaken by community activists and others concerned to see that this study does not gain traction as a vehicle to validate the further unnecessary asphalting of the Peninsula at the expense of a model of human habitation and mobility that heeds the environmental constraints with which we are now faced. This includes gingering up the Shire of Mornington Peninsula to improve upon its customary half-hearted attempts to advocate and facilitate improved public transport offerings.
In this regard, it is especially important to acknowledge that approximately 60% of the Peninsula is dedicated to green wedge areas (according to an estimate I received on request from the Shire of Mornington Peninsula). A review of Melbourne’s green wedges also recently announced by the Victorian government which might lead to additional environmentally burdensome uses in green wedges is potentially troubling. There now appears to be some prospect that the green wedges will take upon a sickly yellow or brown hue as Melbourne’s undisciplined expansion towards the horizon is permitted to continue. This process has already been given major succor on the Mornington Peninsula with the construction of Peninsula Link.
We should also be mindful that property industry lobbyists and freeway advocates are both in the same cart. And as recent newspaper reports show their political affections and cash are effortlessly transferable. (3)
Recent Peninsula transport inquiries biased towards road transport and against sustainable transport and planning
Apart from the Frankston Bypass EES Inquiry there have been other inquiries undertaken in recent years concerning transport policy issues on the Mornington Peninsula and in Frankston. Like the EES Inquiry none of the other inquiries considered the desirability or measures required for any significant increase in public and active transport and a reduction in car dependency on the Peninsula. For the most part, the implicit official agenda has always been the alleviation of road congestion by the simple expedient of increasing road space.
These other reports include:
- the Mornington Peninsula Access and Mobility Study Final Transport Plan (MAPMS)(November 2007) undertaken for the Frankston City Council and the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council by Booz Allen Hamilton. The report was supported by the Department of Infrastructure, the Department of Sustainability and Environment and Vic Roads. The Frankston Bypass EES report (April 2009) quoted the MAPM report with approval to validate its own finding in support of Peninsula Link
- the South Eastern Transport Strategy (March 2010) completed for the South Eastern Integrated Transport Group, which includes the Shire of Mornington Peninsula as a member. This report flagged the construction of a road by-pass to Rye as a means to manage peak tourism demand in the area. Funding support for the project was received from VicRoads and technical assistance was provided by AECOM Australia Pty Ltd; and
- the Frankston/ Mornington Peninsula Bus Service Review report completed in November 2009 for the Department of Transport by Connell Wagner Pty Ltd. The review recommendations do not meet the public transport needs of people who live or visit the areas of the Peninsula covered by the forthcoming study to be conducted by VicRoads.
There have been no worthwhile improvements to bus services on the Peninsula in the wake of the review.
Putting things in perspective
As noted above when Roads Minister Tim Pallas announced in January 2010 that the Labor government was to commence construction of Peninsula Link he effectively claimed it would permit road users to travel 95 kilometres per hour between Carrum Downs and Dromana, which would shave up to 40 minutes off travel time on the route. To put this into perspective this compares with an average travel speed in the morning peak in 2009-10 of 35.4 kilometres per hour on the whole of Melbourne’s monitored road network. (4)
Recently, traffic speeds during peak periods have been measured to be as low as 7 kilometres per hour on Warrigal Road near the Chadstone Shopping Centre. This is often the case on major arterial roads such as Warrigal Road which also has about 400 route bus services using it every week day. In 2008 average weekday traffic volumes on this segment of Warrigal Road near Chadstone was about 57,000. According to data tabled by the then Southern and Eastern Integrated Transit Authority (now Linking Melbourne Authority) in support of the application to construct Peninsula Link average weekday traffic volumes on Moorooduc Highway between Mornington-Tyabb Road and Bungower Road was in the order of 37,000 vehicles. (5)
It takes little imagination to conclude where the greater public benefit lies: getting travel times off the floor in inner Melbourne or spending three quarters of a billion dollars on a project for the ostensible purpose of “bypassing” Frankston which permits speeds over ten times greater.
Seen in this context the $760 million dollars expenditure on Peninsula Link by the Brumby government is outlandish. Any government that provides just one route bus service (the 788 from Frankston Station to Portsea) on Point Nepean Road with a headway of 45 minutes on weekdays (including peak times) and 75 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays cannot be taken seriously. It is not a public transport service in any meaningful sense. It’s a bad joke. It is useless for commuters, school kids, university students and for doing the shopping or visiting friends. But that is what is happening at the moment. Issues of social exclusion have been effortlessly dismissed.
Notwithstanding this mediocre service, in 2008-09 1962 passengers took the 788 route bus service each weekday, and 1454 on Saturdays and 1040 on Sundays. Therefore the average occupancy rate per service is probably between 40 and 55 passengers and it could be expected that a large proportion of the passengers travel between locations south of Safety Beach and Frankston.
Meaningful increases in service frequency would result in more than proportionate increases in patronage and relieve pressure on road space on Point Nepean Highway and other roads on the Peninsula.
However, to compensate the new government is evidently willing to develop plans to spend millions of dollars on more road space! It should wrap some simple arithmetic around the problem before it repeats the mistakes of its predecessor. And it is simple: one road lane is capable of moving about 1,000 people per hour if they are sitting in cars whilst it can accommodate 8,000 people per hour if they are on buses. Of course trams and trains are even more space efficient. In fact, according to VicRoads in 2008-09 only 687 persons per lane were carried on average each hour on the Melbourne arterial and freeway network (6)
This state government is at the point where it needs to decide whether it is in the same business as its predecessor of building more expensive road space for pieces of metal to fly around on the Peninsula or whether it will construct a transport system that focuses on the travel needs of the local and visiting populace that also respects enduring principles reflected in the establishment of Melbourne’s green wedges four decades ago.
Ian Hundley 30 July 2011
Re-Published with the kind permission of the author
(1) Victorian Auditor-General’s Report, Management of Major Road Projects, June 2011 (2) Clay Lucas and Royce Miller, ‘Auditor hits $2 b road project,’ The Age, June 25, 2011 (3) See for example Royce Millar, ‘Driving a wedge between the locals,’ The Saturday Age, July 30, 2011
(4) Traffic Monitor 2009-2010 (VicRoads May 2011), p. 27
(5) Maunsell/ AECOM, Frankston Bypass Strategic Transport Modelling Technical Report (SEITA 3 March 2008, p. 21
(6) Traffic Monitor 2009/2010, p. 30.
- Auditor hits $2b project (theage.com.au)
- Victorian traffic projections off mark (news.theage.com.au)
- Freeways slow to a crawl (theage.com.au)