Saturday’s Federal Election result might have been unexpected by many, but it underscores the Coalition’s illogical obsession with East West Link.
Well, illogical from a transport planning perspective that is. Remember, it’s got a business case that says it will lose money – unless you include Wider Economic Benefits with which the Victorian Auditor General had, and I quote: significant issues (of) plausibility.
(This was also a reminder that you can’t always believe everything in business cases.)
It’s not really free money of course. It’s money from taxpayers. It should be spent wisely.
Being a money-losing project didn’t stop the Federal Coalition making a pledge of $4 billion for East West Link during the election campaign. Despite their claims, that doesn’t appear to be enough money to pay for it.
The $4b is only the government contribution – as per the 2014 business case. But the amount required is questionable given five years have passed, and there’s been some scope creep thanks to overlap with the WestGate Tunnel, and (perhaps) a proposal last year from the State Coalition to build the eastern tunnel portal further east.
There’s also the question of whether there’s construction industry capacity to build a third major motorway project (at the same time as WestGate Tunnel and North East Link), alongside numerous level crossing removal projects and the Metro tunnel. Heavy demand tends to drive up prices.
Obviously the Federal Coalition backed EWL yet again because of politics, but it’s not really clear why they remain so obsessed with it, since it didn’t translate into swings to them around Melbourne – apart from in Aston.
Everywhere else in Melbourne, there were swings away from the Coalition – maybe not enough to lose seats, but enough to move a good many electorates into marginal territory.
To be fair on the Feds, they also made a pledge for the Kooyong railway crossing removal – which amazingly isn’t on the State’s list. (The Coalition pledge also included studies for two others: Tooronga Road and Madden Grove). This is good – except that they insist it has to be rail under, because they’ve taken the State Lib line on skyrail… as if an elevated rail line will somehow spoil the view of the nearby elevated tollway.
If the Feds can get over their obsession with EWL – which of course they won’t – there are plenty of other projects they could be contributing to, including other level crossing removals and rail network duplication, which would provide huge benefits.
If they were feeling particularly mischievous, they could take on public transport projects that the State isn’t interested in, such as suburban tram extensions. Some, such as the 75 to Knox and Ferntree Gully, would even reach into the eastern suburbs electorates the Coalition is courting.
Equally there’s an argument that a spirit of genuine cooperation would see the Feds funding projects on Infrastructure Victoria’s short term priority list.
It’s not as if Melbourne doesn’t have already enough major road projects underway. Two new tollways is two too many.
Yes, these motorways all have short term travel time benefits, but history shows those won’t last. And there are ways of boosting access and economic activity that aren’t restricted to people who drive and can afford tolls, and don’t so easily get clogged if they are “successful” and people actually use them.
It’s worth noting that every time the EWL has been taken to an election, it’s lost: Kennett in 1999, Brumby in 2010, Napthine in 2014 (despite the side letter, which is what triggered the huge bill for cancelling it), and Guy in 2018.
And now 2019. It seems the Coalition hasn’t yet learnt their lesson.