Monday, June 30, 2008

EastLink opens with traffic jams

Perhaps a precursor of things to come? More cars in another tollway/carpark?

IF THE success of a debut can be measured by the size of the crowd — or the depth of congestion — yesterday's opening of EastLink was a winner.

As Sunday traffic crawled, bumper-to-bumper, through Melbourne's two newest tunnels, the grand event could also have been a million-dollar triumph — if only the tolls were being enforced.

The road's operator, ConnectEast, was counting cars through e-TAGs, but does not plan to release traffic volume data until the end of the first week of operation.

The fee for using the 39-kilometre tollway will be capped at about $5, rising with inflation, and costing less for shorter trips. The tolls will begin on July 27.

ConnectEast has estimated there will be about 260,000 trips on the road every day, bringing in about $900,000 a day once the tolls are in place.

With traffic flows medium to heavy yesterday, hundreds of thousands of vehicles were expected on the road.

ConnectEast managing director John Gardiner said he was overwhelmed by the launch, describing it as a "well-organised operation" that went like clockwork.

Sightseers caused tunnel congestion and several minor crashes, he said.

"Generally, they're nose-to-tail accidents where people are just not watching the road," he said.

"The road's working quite well except in the tunnel where there is fairly slow traffic."

The first EastLink drivers were on the road at 1.01am under police escort from Frankston and Mitcham.

It took 29 minutes to open the on-ramps and exits— less time for one of the first drivers to run out of petrol and not much longer for an 18-year-old Mount Martha man to be caught speeding at 135 km/h between the Princes Highway and Cheltenham Road.

Senior Constable Darryl Jones said police were concerned that the new road would bring out bad behaviour.

"Over the next few weeks there'll be a 24-hour-a-day police presence on that road," he said.

By lunchtime yesterday, the Melba and Mullum Mullum tunnels at the end of the Eastern Freeway were full.

Authorities closed the Springvale Road on-ramp and a tunnel lane to push out a second driver without petrol.

The $3.8 billion project is a public-private partnership and construction costs were $2.5 billion.

In 2003, the State Government revealed that the road would have a toll despite promising before the 2002 election that it would not.

Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said yesterday that the Liberal Party had always supported the project but voters should remember the promise broken when Premier John Brumby was treasurer.

"Labor's lie in the 2002 election about that issue and about tolls is very much his to own," Mr Baillieu said.

Deputy Premier Rob Hulls said the road was a fantastic piece of infrastructure and all drivers should use caution.

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