#EWLink: What is it? What is it For? Why it won’t die easily? – Sophie Sturup on mega projects

I and others have been known to call the East-West Link tunnel a zombie project — you can fight it off (as was done in the 70s) but it will never truly die.

Last year at the launch for the Trains Not Tollroads campaign, Dr Sophie Sturup gave a great speech on mega projects. She made some really good points about how these multi-billion dollar mega projects get up, and about EWLink specifically.

She’s given variations on the speech elsewhere… these are summary notes from a similar speech given to the Carlton Residents Association meeting on 14 March this year. Reproduced with permission. Hopefully they’re as compelling in written form as they are spoken.

Victorian government advertising their "second river crossing"

What is East – West?

East – West project is a mega project and a road project. That is why my research on the mentalities of mega projects has some relevance to it.

From my research, a mega projects have a couple of salient features:

1. Power is in mega projects is based on sovereignty – which is to say that these projects rest on the fact that someone with the authority to do so has declared that they will be done. Thus the legitimacy of the project is directly linked to the people who said it would happen. To question the legitimacy of the project is to question the right of the ‘sovereign’ to decide things, and this is generally confused with the legitimacy of the sovereign at all. The other thing about this is that everyone operating in the project is able to do so because of the sovereign decision. Thus they cannot question the project’s legitimacy either without removing their ability to operate in the project at all.

2. Process in the project is dominated by project thinking. Project thinking is about deciding what needs to be done, and then creating boundaries around that so that it cannot be interfered with. That is, making the project manageable. This is one of the reasons why consultation looks pretty weird in these projects. By the time the community gets talked to about the project, the project has already been decided upon (see 1) and the fact that it is happening cannot be questioned. The project thinking means that the only questions of relevance are those which will ‘improve’ the project either by reducing its costs or reducing the impact on the community. And the reduction of impact on the community can only be accommodated if it reduces costs or the time taken in the project (which also costs money).

3. Mega projects do not come about as a result of identification of a problem, and then the application of a solution. The process of creating a mega project includes the problem and solution being jointly conceived. This happens as the stories or rationales for the project, and what can be conceived as being done jointly emerge – this lets you get at the next item on this agenda which is why has this project happened?

EWLink interchange to Citylink at Royal Park

What is the project for?

The rationale for mega projects needs to make sense if the project is going to be a success. In this sense East-west is a failure waiting to happen. It won’t be a failure because it isn’t built on time and on budget. The Linking Melbourne Authority has the competence to ensure that that happens. Unfortunately that isn’t what constitutes success in mega projects.

One of the key findings of Omega Project 2, a research project looking at 32 mega transport projects across 10 countries (run by the Omega Centre, Bartlett School of Planning, University College London and funded by Volvo Education and Research Foundation (VREF) was that mega projects are context specific and where they don’t have an open and exploratory relationship with the context they work out as a failure.

My own research which focused the Australian cases of Melbourne’s City Link, the Perth to Mandurah Railway and Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel, found in Australia we define success as occurring when projects meet their stated outcomes (in transport projects that means traffic numbers) and the companies which build them are successful in financial terms (which of course is related to the traffic numbers being correct).

The reason that East – West will be a failure is therefore that the stated goals are:

a) Fluffy

b) Not agreed on

c) Based on inducing traffic, so there won’t look like any kind of benefit. For example the modelling shows that the traffic in Alexandra Parade will reduce a tiny bit briefly, but be back at the same level by 2020 2030. This will not look like 30% reduction in traffic on the Eastern Freeway, unless of course the traffic numbers projected to be induced doesn’t’ happen in which case there won’t be enough traffic to meet that modelled expectation. Similarly the changes on Bell St or reduced traffic on M1 will not be noticeable by the people who are near enough to the tunnel to make a difference.

The fluffiness of the dialogue on the purpose of the project is thus such that if they succeed in getting the numbers they predict the Eastern Freeway will be horrible and the numbers on Alexandra Parade the same so the predictions will be wrong because there will not be a 30% reduction in traffic. Or alternatively they won’t get the numbers of induced traffic in which case the tunnel will be seen as a failure because it isn’t able to pay for itself (and therefore wasn’t really needed).

This leads to the conclusion that whatever the stated objectives in the media (primarily ‘reduce congestion’) that probably isn’t what it is really for. So what is indicated in the objectives which isn’t quite so fluffy?

The objectives which appear to have teeth are:

a) Induce traffic onto the eastern freeway – in the form of trucks. This makes sense. After turning the section of Freeway between the City Link tunnels and the Bolte Bridge into freeway spaghetti, it is not surprising that B-double truck drivers are less than happy with that route. City Link changed the location of key freight logistics hubs and helped the development of a major one out at Lyndhurst/Dandenong. East-Link was built to facilitate this development (among other things). However the trucks (which represent several cars in terms of counting traffic) have failed to use the road to come to the Eastern Freeway. Why? Because there is nowhere for them to go when they get there. Thus one logic for this road which makes sense is to create a new link for trucks trying to access the port from Lyndhurst. This will have the effect of reducing the cost to the state of East-Link (because of increased toll revenue), and thus obliquely help pay for the East-West. It will also keep the truck moguls happy, and reduce the truck traffic on the M1 (which is of course Liberal heartland). It is possible to observe this as a source of equity, it will share the truck traffic, and hence the enormous danger to health and life they present, around the city more. Bringing large numbers of B-doubles and their pollution into those eastern suburbs which are almost truck free.

b) As speculation, another source of possible logic for East-West is to grant access to the Liberal swinging voters in the east to some of the jobs that are coming from the west in particular the Airport. Obviously this isn’t one of the things discussed widely in the media. This would explain why ‘improving access to the airport for those in the eastern suburbs’ might make a type of sense. Certainly spending $8 billion on a tunnel so “George” can go to the airport twice a year more comfortably doesn’t.

c) A third logic which makes sense is that this project is getting funded by the Federal government and there is no money on the table for anything else. It is against all logic in public service not to take up money when it is offered even when it only represents 18% of the cost of $8 billion.

d) Finally the logic of keeping car driving alive and well in the city is also relevant here. Tony Abbott has clearly expressed the view in various publications including Borderline what in his view we will have failed as a society if freely available car transport isn’t provided.

The other reasons why the road is occurring are largely borrowed from the Eddington report which was based on dealing with an accessibility and equity problem that was real – the issues of the disadvantaged West and the actually congested Westgate Bridge. The rationale in Eddington doesn’t make much sense for the East-West stage 1 because it comes from a study which had the centre of it’s study area in Laverton, and only at the very edge reached the end of the Eastern Freeway. An example of such nonsense statements is the one which came out in the second news letter from LMA (before the second half of East West was announced) which stated that the project was required because by 2031 almost 440,000 cars would be crossing the Maribyrnong by road (none of course would be in the East-West stage 1 as that project does not cross the Maribyrnong).

Why this project won’t die easily

One of the main reasons is that both sides of politics have a vested interest in maintaining the legitimacy of their right to make sovereign decisions. The major parties like to make decisions on these things and then deliver them it removes all that messy business of democracy. If the Labor Party was to revoke the contracts it would not only be expensive by they would essentially be admitting that these things should only happen after consultation (which is likely to make it very difficult to get anything done).

Secondly the Labor party has linked their policy to jobs. Because of the time it takes to get large projects up and running, they will not meet their targets without East-West. Therefore they will not revoke contracts unless forced.

Why do I care?

I believe that we probably do have an infrastructure crisis in this country. Apart from new projects much of our infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced. Also I believe we need to massively retrofit our cities for sustainability and even to just accommodate more people. We probably need mega projects to do that.

The problem with this project is that every failed mega project inflates the cost of the next one. You can already see that with the massive cost increases between Cross City Tunnel, the Brisbane tunnels and this project.

The other problem that this project exposes is the degree to which government has come to the conclusion that the community cannot be consulted with. I don’t believe this is just ideology, it has also come from bitter experience. If the community is going to insist on being consulted, then it is up to us to figure out how to do that in ways which are productive.

More reading/viewing:

Bike lanes that don’t disappear 50m before an intersection? Yes, it is possible.

As an occasional cyclist, nothing puts me off like feeling unsafe.

Bike lanes help me feel safer, but tend to fizzle out before intersections — just where many cyclists would consider that you need them the most.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a real life example of continuous bike lanes: the corner of Alma and Kooyong Roads, Caulfield North.

Looking south:
Bike lanes at intersection of Alma and Kooyong Roads, Caulfield North

Looking west:
Bike lanes at intersection of Alma and Kooyong Roads, Caulfield North

Maybe this isn’t news to some of you, but I don’t think I’ve seen a local intersection laid out like this before.

Someone somewhere has obviously decided that it’s okay if occasionally a pedestrian (or a cyclist) holds up a left-turning vehicle, in turn holding up vehicles going straight ahead.

You can’t have two lanes going straight ahead, because with the bike lanes there’s only room for three lanes (altogether).

But it shows that it is possible to provide bike lanes that don’t vanish when approaching an intersection.

Build bike lanes like these up into a continuous network and we might see a lot more cyclists.

  • According to a map on City of Glen Eira’s roads page, the council (not VicRoads) is responsible for the management of both of these roads.
  • Under the VicRoads SmartRoads strategy (still not signed-off by the council), both are local roads, though Kooyong Road is also identified as a bus priority route (route 605 runs uses it).

So, is this a zebra crossing, or not?

Dear City of Maribyrnong and/or VicRoads,

I’m confused. Is this a zebra crossing, or not?

Is this a zebra crossing, or not?

This is the corner of Nicholson and Droop Streets, in Footscray.

It appears the lights were originally a conventional non-zebra crossing when the road was narrowed a few years ago. But with only a single lane of traffic (which very rarely gets a green), and few vehicles actually using it, few pedestrians bothered to press the button and wait.

It’s not helped by the red man being the default. At many locations, this included, making the green default would make more sense.

I think about a year ago they painted zebra crossing lines as well. Now it doesn’t make sense. Are you meant to wait for the green man, or not?

Perhaps they still need the cars coming out of Nicholson Street to wait for a green, but there must be some other combination of markings they could use that isn’t contradictory.

Removing the zebra stripes and making the green man the default, unless a vehicle activates the green light against it, would probably be the logical thing here.

Are there other spots like this with confusing and/or contradictory road markings?

If east-west traffic is so critical, why does the M1 only provide 2 through lanes each way?

The government argues that cross-city traffic is so critical that the they want to (without a mandate) spend $8 billion building just the first phase of the East-West tunnel.

If that’s the case, then why does the newly remodelled (2008-2010) M1 corridor only provide two lanes in each direction for those cross-city trips?

Eastbound (coming off the Westgate bridge, towards the Burnley tunnel):
M1 Eastbound signage - only 2 lanes through to east

Westbound (coming out of the Domain tunnel, towards the Westgate Bridge):
M1 Westbound signage - only two lanes through to west

…and another westbound view from a bit further on, where the lanes merge down to two:
M1 Westbound - only two lanes through to west

These pictures are all from Google Streetview, and actually show the freeway towards the end of the modifications… I’ve checked, and this is how it is today.

Road designers aren’t idiots. When they do massive remodelling like this to re-organise the lanes, they look at traffic flows. The Westgate bridge is now 5 lanes in each direction, and the Citylink tunnels are 3 each, but there are only 2 through lanes each way.

That leaves the conclusion that the traffic going from the east to the west and vice-versa is only a small proportion of the total traffic, particularly compared to numbers going over the Westgate.

Update Tuesday: I’ve had some feedback on this post (not via comments) to the effect that some thing this is twisting the truth, because various lanes leave and join the motorway along its length, so the total number of lanes at any one point is always more than 2. That’s true, but my point is that (particularly in congested conditions), the capacity of the M1 for east to west cross-city traffic is heavily influenced by the number of lanes that go all the way through… and this is only two lanes each way.

One person also pointed out an additional lane is available westbound via the Todd Road exit and the service station… but I would think it’s unlikely many drivers going from the east to the west would use this — plus I think it involves a merge with traffic from Kingsway and another from the Bolte Bridge southbound.

What do people want prioritised? PT or roads? Every survey says PT. #SpringSt

The state government continues to push the East-West motorway (a plan they barely mentioned in the 2010 election campaign) over major public transport projects.

But what do the people want? As it happens there’s a pretty clear message from surveys going back at least five years. (Skip to the end for the latest one.)

October 2008

And 94% believe the Government should be spending more on public transport. Extra spending on roads was supported by 55% of those surveyed.

The survey, taken last month by Sweeney Research, involved 601 respondents in Melbourne and 2000 nationally.

– The Age 20/10/2008: Melburnians want better system

Crowded 903 bus, Sunday

April 2011

A survey of attitudes to transport found that 94 per cent of respondents believed more money should be spent on public transport, while just 68 per cent said the government did not spend enough on roads.

This trend was reflected nationally, with an average of 88 per cent of those surveyed calling for more public transport funding, and 73 per cent wanting more spending on road infrastructure.

– The Age 10/4/2011: Fix trains, then roads: commuters

September 2012

ALMOST two-thirds of Australians believe investment in public transport is more important than investment in roads, a survey has found.

In Victoria 63 per cent of people surveyed said investing in public transport was the highest priority, compared with 20 per cent who believed it was most important to invest in roads.

– The Age 26/9/2012: Make room: transport survey, quoting the University of Sydney

March 2013

Over half (53%) of Australians said that the highest priority issue for transport in Australia is public transport improvements, followed by road improvements (26%).

– University of Sydney, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS): Transport Opinion Survey (TOPS), Quarter 1, March 2013 (an update of the survey quoted for September 2012)

Highest priority transport issue, by state - March 2013

May 2013

Would you prefer the Napthine Government to spend more on public transport or road infrastructure projects, like the East West Link tunnel?

Public transport 58.8%
Road infrastructure projects 32.3%
Undecided 8.9%

ReachTel poll for Channel 7

Updates since this blog post was written

23/7/2013: It’s emerged via a Melbourne Times Weekly article that more RACV members believe enhanced public transport is a better fix for traffic congestion than more roads. In responding to the article, the RACV has revealed that only 38% of their members support the East-West tollway tunnel.

24/8/2013: Voters prefer Metro rail link to be built before east-west tunnel: VOTERS in Victoria’s vital marginal seats overwhelmingly want the Metro rail link to be built before the east-west road tunnel. An exclusive Galaxy Poll for the Herald Sun reveals the $9 billion public transport project is rated as the top transport priority by 63 per cent of voters in Chisholm and La Trobe. Only a quarter of those surveyed backed the east-west road, intended to ease traffic congestion for those driving to the CBD from eastern and southeastern suburbs.

28/11/2013: A poll published by The Age today shows 23% support the East West tunnel, compared to 74% supporting improved public transport.

2/3/2014: Another Age poll: Despite countless hours and millions of dollars spent marketing the $8 billion road project, the latest Age/Nielsen poll has found that only one in four Victorians believe the tunnel should be the highest infrastructure priority to ease congestion and improve liveability. Instead, most people want the government to build the Metro Rail Capacity Project – a nine-kilometre underground train line through the city that would allow another 20,000 passengers to use the network during peak hour.

3/3/2014: Herald Sun/Galaxy Poll reveals airport rail link our top priority: VICTORIANS want a rail line to the airport ahead of a new rail tunnel through inner ­Melbourne or the East West Link, a Herald Sun/Galaxy Poll has found.