Illogical obsession

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.

'Lies' #EWLink

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.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

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.

Punt Road traffic during evening peak

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.

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9 Replies to “Illogical obsession”

  1. The Federal Libs should have instead committed to a railway line to Doncaster but that’s just a fantasy!

  2. Note that the Federal Coalition could equally say that every time they have taken the EWL to an election they have won, Abbott in 2013, Turnbull in 2016 and now Morrison in 2019.

    Obviously the East West Link was not a big factor at the federal election as there were other more significant issues at play, but the same could also be said for the State elections. In fact when Dan Andrews first became Premier in 2014 it could be said that he won the election despite his stance on the East West Link given that opinion poles at the time suggested roughly two thirds of Victorians were in support of the project. Not that we can trust opinion poles anymore!

  3. @Ross, the Coalition won those three Federal elections, obviously. But did they win a majority of seats in Victoria?

    2019: no. 14 out of 38

    2016: no. 15 out of 37

    2013: no. 16 out of 37.

    (This is me trying to do a count off those pages… apologies for any errors)

  4. Eventually the east-west link will have to be bulit. The libs made the wrong decision of focusing on the east side of the link. The western part of the project had a better return-on-investment. Melbourne is the fastest-growing city in Australia and we need investments for both public transports and roads. Shame on both political parties for failing to find a common ground for this project.

  5. “Melbourne is the fastest-growing city in Australia”

    Yes indeed, but we already have more motorways than much larger cities.

    We should only keep building them if we want road traffic to continue to dominate. Which is not what anybody wants.

  6. The line that “east-west link will have to be be built eventually” is not supported by any traffic theory. It is simply unnecessary if we move traffic AROUND the city instead of trying to move it THROUGH the city. Alexandra Pde and that corridor are too close to the centre of the CBD to support high traffic volumes, and they don’t have to. Reliance on the ring road, by connecting it with the north-south corridor to the east (Eastlink) will move all of the traffic around the city, taking pressure off the western end of the Eastern Fwy. That is, as long as extra capacity isn’t added to the Eastern Fwy to encourage more people to use it to get across the city. Sadly, it appears as though the north-east link is being designed to do exactly this, so I don’t see good results ahead of us. A cynic might even observe that the design of north-east link appears to be intended to make the east-west link essential….

  7. “east-west link will have to be be built eventually”
    I just mean that you’ve got to build more infrastructures with a growing population of more than 3% per annum. It would definitely be better to invest in the surburban rail loop but since this might take up to 3 decades to be completed, the east-west link might be needed in the meantime.

  8. If you’ve got a fast-growing population, by all means build infrastructure, but make sure it’s the type of infrastructure that can easily and efficiently scale up with an influex of users.

    Roads can’t do that, which is why most of the biggest cities in the world don’t rely on them.

  9. How much improvements to rail can be done with $4B?

    Or, given just how much we need improvements to the bus network, $1b on brand new buses, then how long can we run those buses with the remaining $3b?

    We are begging to get full wheelchair accessibility for tram commuters, with 50 more E class to be ordered, out of the planned 150,….. well there is a good start.

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