Writing recently in The Age senior columnist Kenneth Davidson attacked the Baillieu government’s decision to seek funding from the Commonwealth government’s capital funding body, Infrastructure Australia, for an eighteen kilometre expanded freeway link between the Eastern Freeway and the Western Ring Road. (See “Why the east-west road tunnel is a stinker,” The Age, 28 November 2011 at http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/why-the-eastwest-road-tunnel-is-a-stinker-20111127-1o19f.html )
The $30 million funding bid, announced in mid-November by Premier Baillieu, is in the Victorian government’s 2011 priority list of projects for funding by Infrastructure Australia. The funding sought is for project planning and the government says it may also seek Commonwealth funding for the construction of the project.
The government claims to have reviewed and enhanced the project, which previously appeared in the Brumby government’s Victorian Transport Plan in 2008. The government proposes to include a new stage to connect the Eastern Freeway to CityLink and connect CityLink to the Port of Melbourne as well as a connection between the Port of Melbourne to the Western Ring Road.
According to Premier Baillieu “The new East West Link is a once in a generation project that would transform the way people move around Melbourne in a way not seen since CityLink and the City Rail Loop were constructed.”
However, this funding bid gives rise to some major concerns about the direction that transport policy is now taking in Victoria.
The viability of cities
Inner city freeway construction has become a thing of the past in most cities that wish to remain environmentally sustainable. East-West Link is a “Detroit”-like approach to transport planning by the Victorian government at a time when Detroit has all but ceased existence as a viable city and some of it is reverting to open prairie.
The current viability of Melbourne (and a major reason why international business publications often choose Melbourne as one of the world’s “most livable” cities) is due to the fact that a large proportion of the travel to and from central Melbourne each day is by public transport and increasingly by active transport, not by car. The government’s preferred funding model for this freeway would threaten to choke central Melbourne in motor car traffic and threaten the city’s livability;
Finance and economics
The financial marketability (as distinct from economic viability) of the project may rest heavily on attracting tolled motor car traffic into inner suburban Melbourne and the Central Business District. The Victorian government noted in its submission to Infrastructure Australia that it is seeking private sector funding of the project and that those elements of the project that are most attractive to the private sector are likely to proceed first.
Public transport v cars
Such a stratagem would rely upon maintaining public transport services from Melbourne’s eastern and northern suburbs, in particular, as a poor substitute for travel to the Melbourne CBD and inner suburbs by car. This would secure the profitability of the project for the private financiers the government is currently wooing for the project.
The Victorian government’s funding submission to Infrastructure Australia lauds the Kennett government’s CityLink project as a major success story. It was claimed to be a fine piece of transport infrastructure with a successful funding model. However, the M1 required spending of another $1 billion to accommodate more motor cars shortly after CityLink opened. This was primarily because of yawning gaps in the public transport network in south-east Melbourne, rendering many households car-dependent. There is a real and present danger that this historical “model” will be repeated in northern and eastern Melbourne with the construction of the proposed East-West Link;
Freight and the Port of Hastings
Heavy justification is placed on the East-West Link being a freight route to serve a proposed new container port at Hastings on Westernport Bay. There are growing doubts as to whether this is the best location for a second container port for Melbourne. Most greenfields industrial and residential expansion in Melbourne in the next generation will be in the north and the west of Melbourne, not in the south-east. There are also valuable environmental assets at risk in this part of the Mornington Peninsula and this risk is likely to be heightened by rising sea levels triggered by climate change, even without the threat of a major container port;
Will Doncaster rail be pushed aside?
Because of its election promise to conduct a study into a rail service to Doncaster one of the first things the incoming Baillieu government did on coming to office was to halt a study by the outgoing Brumby government to increase the road capacity of Hoddle Street. This made sense as a rail service to serve Doncaster Hill and the City of Manningham would significantly reduce peak hour traffic on the Eastern Freeway and Hoddle Street.
When a rail line to Doncaster was previously mooted in the 1980’s the Eastern Freeway reservation was nominated as a route for the service. However, any decision to extend the Eastern Freeway westward to the Western Ring Road would appear likely to place at risk access by the new train service to the Eastern Freeway reservation between Hoddle Street and Bulleen Road in Balwyn North, and therefore jeopardise the project. Road traffic would win again.
Travel mode and planning
The reality is that there needs to be a significant shift in travel mode in Melbourne from the private motor car to public transport and active transport (walking and cycling) if the metropolitan area is not to be gridlocked and if transport is not to absorb more and more of our valuable public and private land.
When it came to office in November 2010 the Baillieu government stressed it would develop an integrated approach to transport and land use planning. This was in part a response to the perceived shortcomings of the previous government and especially its failure to deliver the planning blue print Melbourne 2030. However, the pre-emptive decision to proceed with the East-West Link now seriously calls into question the sincerity of this government undertaking.
It has also been recently reported that the government’s new public transport planning agency, the Public Transport Development Authority, will not commence until 2013. This is a further worrying sign that barely a year after assuming office the roads lobby has gained the upper hand with this government at the expense of rational transport and land use planning.
You can read the Victorian government’s 2011 funding submission to Infrastructure Australia at http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/images/stories/documents/mediareleases/2011/000_Victorian_Government_2011_IA_Submission.pdf
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