East West Link is now that it’s dead, buried and cremated (to coin a phrase). Though I’m not sure that’s how you destroy zombies.
Some closing thoughts on the project…
The $339m payout is less than a single year of the expected $345m annual Availability Payments that would have been paid if it had been built — let alone the billions in other costs. So yes it’s a lot of money, but given the <1 Benefit Cost Ratio, we the taxpayers of Victoria really dodged a bullet here.
Part of the problem is that for the huge cost, the tollway would have provided some traffic relief… but only for a short time. Studies by the Linking Melbourne Authority showed traffic on Alexandra Parade would have returned to the previous levels by 2031, just 12 years after opening.
Given it won’t be built, the Eastern Freeway will continue to finish at Hoddle Street. It was planned that way. In 1973, Premier Hamer cancelled the forerunner to the East West Link, an inner-north surface freeway across, and but pushed ahead with building the Eastern, knowing it would finish at a dead-end, which the road lobby happily accepted at the time. So the current situation is by design.
Being a zombie, it came back. Salami tactics.
East West Link wouldn’t have helped unclog the Eastern and Hoddle Street, because most cars are headed for the CBD and inner city, not across to Flemington and the airport. You can actually see this when driving east to west: the traffic moves faster in the 1-2 lane sections from College Crescent to Elliot Avenue than it does in the 4-5 lane sections further east.
In fact, current traffic levels are falling. Vicroads data shows traffic fell up to 15% on Alexandra Parade (depending on where you measure it) between 2002 and 2012.
Of course, more traffic would head east-west if there was a motorway provided to do it. This is why the road wouldn’t have provided more than a few years’ relief. More traffic would be induced.
We’ve spent seventy years trying to solve traffic congestion by building more road space for cars. Sooner or later we’re going to have to accept that it doesn’t work.
Broadly, transport is supply-led. You build more roads, you get more cars. You provide more (usable) public transport, you get more people using it.
But the scale of PT capacity is vastly bigger, because each person isn’t bringing 2 tonnes of rubber, metal and plastic with them, so it takes a lot longer to fill up again.
Want to shift 2000 more people per hour along a road? You’ll have to widen the road all the way along and add a lane. Example: the M1 widening, 2007-2009, cost $1.39 billion. And now it’s full again.
Want to shift 2000 more people by train? That’s just 2-3 extra trains; about 10% of a rail line’s capacity.
Despite red herrings like “tradies!!”, most people can use PT if it’s provided and competitive with driving.
So now Labor’s pushing ahead with the metro rail tunnel instead, which (along with level crossing removals, signal upgrades, fleet upgrades, and the one thing they haven’t announced yet: duplication of single track) enables a lot more people to be moved through our busy city. Now they just need to figure out how to pay for it, given the Feds under Abbott won’t.
The political implications of all this are obvious. The Coalition went into the 2010 election and won it on the back of public transport issues — reflecting survey after survey that said people wanted PT ahead of big roads.
(A few surveys conclude people want motorways, but only when they’re not offered a choice. But money is limited. Choices have to be made. We can’t afford every multi-billion dollar project that’s thought up, especially not the ones with poor returns on investment.)
Then in late-2011 the Coalition completely changed tack and tried to ram through the East West Link ahead of the 2014 election.
Tony Abbott declared the 2014 election to be a referendum on the East West Link. Well if that’s true, the people voted it down.
Will this zombie come back? Perhaps.
But the lesson here is clear. If you’re determined to embark on the largest infrastructure project in the state’s history, seek a mandate for it.
PS. When I put in the Shaun Of The Dead references, it was just for a cheap laugh. But that specific point about destroying the brain is a reminder that these issues about how we want our city to develop, and whether we want to pursue policies prioritising private cars or mass transport are not primarily about engineering, but ideas.
- Behind the Crikey Paywall: this excellent article from Stephen Mayne on reaction to the East West Link settlement