Some thoughts on the Westgate Tunnel

We all remember the East West Link. Specifically denied by the Coalition during the 2010 election, after a policy turnaround, they ignored the unfavourable economics of the project, and rammed through the contracts without a mandate, ahead of the 2014 election.

The design ran a motorway through the middle of Royal Park, and required demolition of dozens of homes in Collingwood. Community pressure resulted in Labor deciding to oppose the project and undo the contracts if elected — and they did it, at a cost of $780 million, but saving $4 billion of taxpayer funds, plus billions more in motorist tolls.

The Westgate Tunnel project wasn’t mentioned by Labor in the 2014 election — instead they proposed a smaller “Westgate Distributor” which would have moved trucks out of inner-west local streets by giving them dedicated ramps off the Westgate Freeway, and some arterial road upgrades.

Westgate Tunnel EES: Northern portal at Maribyrnong River

The far bigger project now upon us was thought up by Transurban, operators of Citylink. A huge amount of detail about the project has just been released.

Some brief notes so far:

This project is huge, but in many ways less evil than East West Link. Thanks largely to an accident of geography, it mostly avoids parkland impacts (Lynch Road Reserve in Brooklyn is the notable exception – 34% acquired permanently), and it doesn’t require the acquisition of homes (though some living nearby would like to be bought out).

Westgate Tunnel EES: Footscray Road cross-section

Westgate Tunnel EES: Footscray Road skyroad

I suspect few people look fondly upon Footscray Road. It’ll be covered by an elevated road, with an oddly enclosed bike path in the middle. The transition between the tunnel and this new skyroad will be a portal next to the Maribyrnong River at Yarraville.

All of this might be forgivable if it was purely to get freight in and out of the port. But the city end of the project is clearly aimed at private motor cars — probably because in terms of tolls, that’s where the money is. Remember, Transurban proposed this project.

Westgate Tunnel EES: eGate spaghetti junction

What the Westgate Tunnel does do that EWL didn’t is have a massive spaghetti junction that trashes the proposed E-Gate urban development, and also vastly increases the motorway capacity going into the CBD, which is inevitably going to result in the flooding of the northwest CBD and Docklands with traffic.

How much traffic? The EES claims most of it will hit North Melbourne, with up to 9000 extra cars per day along Dynon Road, 5000 in Hawke Street, 3000 in parts of Victoria Street, and 9000 along parts of Wurundjeri Way. It also claims traffic on some routes will reduce.

Westgate Tunnel EES: traffic forecasts

Can we trust the figures? It claims traffic along Spencer Street and the Bolte Bridge will drop, presumably because people heading from the south-western suburbs into the north side of the CBD and North Melbourne are expected to use the Westgate Tunnel. But if that’s the case, why don’t they use the Bolte Bridge now?

I need to read a bit more on the methodology behind the predictions, but it strikes me that claims of congestion relief on roads nearby to new motorways sometimes are correct in the short term, but don’t last, because they fill up again within a few years. For instance the Monash Freeway built in 1988 was meant to relieve Waverley Road and High Street, but didn’t.

Similarly, Citylink’s time-saving claims were very short-lived thanks to induced traffic.

Feeding the new tunnel will be a widened Westgate Freeway – if I’m counting it right, up to 17 lanes (9 inbound, 8 outbound) in sections, only tempered by the tolls incurred if people choose the new tunnel rather than the existing bridge.

In fact, the plan to massively increase the capacity feeding into the Westgate bridge+tunnel combo should put paid to the idea that this is providing an “alternative” to the bridge. If there’s a problem on the bridge in peak hour, clearly the tunnel won’t be able to relieve it because it’ll be full of its own traffic.

Westgate Freeway at Millers Road
Westgate Tunnel EES: Millers Road interchange

Maribyrnong River/Yarraville Gardens
Westgate Tunnel EES: Yarraville Gardens area

E-Gate
Westgate Tunnel EES: eGate spaghetti interchange

Docklands
Westgate Tunnel EES: Docklands end

The politics of it

Labor says they’ll have contracts ready for signing straight after the 2018 election, avoiding claims that they will force it through and built it without a mandate as the Coalition planned to do with East West Link.

Edit: Silly me, this is completely wrong. Labor are pushing ahead with this. It’s not subject to the next election. I’ve confused it with the NE Link.

The Greens are opposed to the project.

What will the Coalition do? Shadow Treasurer Michael O’Brien has said it’s an “absolute dud”. “We don’t support extra tolls on CityLink users – certainly not to pay for a dud project. And the more Victorians see of this Western Distributor the more the numbers just don’t add up.”

Does that mean they’ll go into the election pledging not to build it? Edit: Will they want to can the contracts? Probably unlikely, as it’ll be too far gone.

So will a vote in 2018 make any difference? Probably not.

What do we want in our city?

As I’ve said before, transport is supply-led. If you want lots more people driving, massively increase motorway capacity, and it’ll happen. This is what the west has to look forward to.

Meanwhile the trains are packed (even on Sunday mornings when they only run every 40 minutes) and the local buses are a real mixed bag, often infrequent and caught in traffic – which on local roads is likely to get worse as they will feed into this new motorway capacity being built.

Ultimately, if built (and it appears it probably will be), this project is likely fundamentally change the north-western end of the City, and skew the transport “options” of those along the Westgate corridor towards cars for decades to come.

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15 Replies to “Some thoughts on the Westgate Tunnel”

  1. There’s no way to describe how disgusted I am at Labor for this deceit.

    Leaving that aside for the moment, this is completely at cross purposes with the urban regeneration of North Melbourne to come with Ardern Station, and will mean that many parts of the northern CBD, Carlton, and North Melbourne will be in semi-permanent gridlock.

    We will tear down this motorway in my lifetime, I’m certain of it. Until we do, we will have several decades of second-rate outcomes while Transurban collects billions.

  2. I am not against roads but this makes no sense without the EW link. Another question is why would people chose a tolled road over an untolled
    one to cross the river, as a society we really need to debate logical road network pricing and PT fare changes as we cannot simply build mega projects to ease our congestion and transport issues.

  3. There are some rumours floating around in my industry that seem to infer that some contracts have already been signed, these started circulating before the EES was even released.

  4. Among Transport Impact Assessment it tries make out that inner west bus routes will benefit from this project.

    Bus routes 216/219/220 already suffer major delays in inner west(sometimes 30 minutes) and are top 3 worst performing routes. Added to this these routes have very littile priority and this project in parts could have potineal to make congestion issue even worse. and yet the EES trys make out area doesn’t need bus priority.

    “Requests for the project to include or not
    preclude improvements to public transport
    such as new tram links and a dedicated bus
    lane.”

    which then says

    “Refer to Section 7.10 for further details of the
    limited impact the project would have on
    public transport.”

    Seem like there no real thought of impacts this projects could have on inner western bus routes. In one part say 232 benefit cause less traffic on West Gate Freeway. and pretty much leaves it that.

    While 216/219/220 they don’t seem address impact around West Melbourne and Docklands well at all a nd the travel times they’ve used are only based on timetable i.e no assessment of real life delays e.g Dudley St and Spencer St can have delays up to 30 minutes. If tram
    got major delays like that it wouldn’t be accepted but seem when comes buses delays are accepted no matter how major they are.

    Also noteworthy in past this project has also claimed that it wouldn’t stop bus route from being introduced along Footscray Rd, the only problem with that it already has a bus route the 220.

    Seem when comes buses only thing get out of this project is spin!

    Sent from my iPhone

  5. I’m with Llib in a sense here.
    I didn’t like East West Link and I don’t care much for this one either. They are both half baked solutions. Eddington recommended a full East West Link from the Deer Park Bypass/Western Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway. If a government committed to that project, locked in, no arguments, no objections heard…

    I don’t mind tolls but I think we’re paying for them in the wrong areas. Don’t put tolls on the roads you want people to use. Put them on the roads you’re trying to clear up. If an arbitrary free tram zone can be set up, use something like that to set up a congestion toll zone. Discourage passenger cars from entering.

  6. What sort of views will bicycle riders get when riding on the cycleway? It seems like I will only get to see a concrete wall?

  7. There are a few issues here:

    Why should Vic have the busiest port in AUS?
    Why not allow shops to open till 9pm to spread out the traffic?
    Why should not a car weighing 2 tonnes pay a lot more for car registration compared to a car weighing 1 tonne?
    Why not charge 457 visa staff $10k/year for car registration?
    If the Gwadar Port is a good idea for China – why not make Darwin the busiest port in AUS?

    There must be a more efficient way of distributing goods – when I delivered to Coles HQ, there are guys at the back who will take the parcel off me and give it to the right person inside Coles HQ. But when I deliver a parcel to a shop in Emporium, I have to park my van and try to find the shop myself and then personally give the parcel to the shop!

  8. Good article.

    One massive benefit of this project that isn’t mentioned is the linked truck bans in the inner west. The cycle network upgrades also seem to be substantial (even though they’re clearly just a sweetener).

    Even so the idea that it would somehow be more valid to build a road primarily to transport goods away from the port seems pretty dubious to me. This task should be done primarily by rail. Infrastructure to support that could equally solve the problem of trucks on local streets in the inner west.

  9. Think you’re getting confusing in relation to the signing of the contracts. It is North East Link that Labor will wait until after the election before signing. With West Gate Tunnel it full steam ahead, despite no mandate for the project…

  10. @ B.J. Winzer

    Just to give you a few scenario’s of how illogical our tolling and PT fare system is at the moment in Melbourne.

    If you travel on the Citylink at 2am in the morning you pay $9 which is the same as the peak price.

    If you travel on the Eastern freeway at the Hoddle St end it is free even in peak times which is strange as it is one of the worst bottlenecks in Melbourne.

    If you travel on the Westgate distributor once it is finished they will have a peak toll for cars (which is a step in the right direction) but the Westgate bridge will remain free, so I wonder which route most cars would prefer in the morning peak.

    The Eastlink has flat tolls and is not even busy in peak hour.

    If you travel from Pakenham to the City (over 60 kilometres) via train it costs exactly the same as travelling 100 metres on a tram if it is outside the free fare zone.

    If you travel in the busiest part of the tram network (CBD) in peak hour it is free.

    These are just a few examples of how the pricing signals lead to road congestion and a skewed utilisation of PT capacity.

  11. Cannot see the point in this project at all. The ramps from the Westgate freeway onto Hyde St possibly supplemented by the bridges over the Maribyrnong into Coode Island is all that is required for truck access IMO. Hazardous goods vehicles currently cannot use the Westgate bridge, and will also not be able to use the new tunnels in any case, and so will need to use these ramps anyway.
    The existing west-north freeway connection over the Bolte bridge is relatively lightly used compared to the rest of the freeway network, and traffic seems to only clog up east of this interchange going towards city and Citylink tunnels, so I’m not sure why the Bolte bridge route needs replicating with the new tunnels.
    If they really want to get a connection into Dynon St, they could add south facing ramps to the existing Western link, although they might be a bit contorted or require some rail relocation works. What is in this area that needs this connection – it is principally residencia, and access will be constrained by the Dryburgh St intersection.
    The Wurundjeri way connection to Dynon Rd is also peculiar as it is only useful for local access between these areas – you don’t really want to put any more westbound traffic down Hopkins St Footscray. Is there an issue with access from the Westernlink/Bolte bridge via Footcrary Rd & Dudley street into the West Melbourne area?
    Possibly traffic from the west currently trys to avoid the $3 toll across the Bolte and uses Lorimer St/ Wurundjeri Way to access the northern side of the city, but if they now have to pay a similar toll in the new tunnels for equivalent access, then I expect that they will still continue to use the existing free connection.
    Should toll the bit of freeway between Bolte bridge interchange and city for the traffic coming over the Westgate bridge, and let people decide which tolled route they want to use to get wherever they require to best distribute the traffic.

  12. Ben, as someone who cycles from Footscray to the city every day, I’m not sure what the improvement is.

    If we cycle down Footscray Rd, it appears we’ll be forced to use the SkyCage. If we cycle down Dynon, we’re faced with a massive increase in traffic at the Hopkins end, where no lanes will ever be provided.

  13. @George
    Its unlikely you’ll be forced to use the SkyCage, there is a shared use path planned to run along side the road at ground level which like the SkyCage will be for pedestrians and cyclists, or just use the road if you’re into that sort of thing.

  14. Hi Daniel,

    I have a website called infrastructureaustralia.com, maybe I could persuade you to publish an article on the site?

    Regards,
    James

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