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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gosh, look at all those cars stuck in the traffic, blocking trucks. Almost a full train carriage worth of people. pic.twitter.com/DhvEXigUtt
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) January 22, 2014
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.
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) September 28, 2014
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.
- Thousands of pages of EES documents are available here
- but you’ve only got until 10th of July to read it all and make a submission!
- The Greens are attempting to read through it all and summarise for the benefit of those who don’t have time to read it all but want to make a submission.