Saturday, June 28, 2008

So what's all this about?

Melbourne's transport has been slowing down for some time. Commuters from outer suburbs drive in hour-long bumper-to-bumper traffic. The inner city is choked with traffic coming off from freeways. Other routes get choked by drivers choosing alternative routes to avoid paying tolls. The train system is straining, and Connex themselves say is at its maximum and will not be able to keep up with the increasing demand.

The successive Victorian Governments have commissioned, and received, a number of reports on how to tackle the future of transport in Melbourne. The most recent of these was commissioned with a very narrow focus, and only asked very specific questions. Sir Rod Eddington answered those questions.

There are a number of 'big ticket' items from his report :
- a rail link from Werribee to Tarneit
- a rail tunnel from Footscray, via the hospitals and University district at the north of the CBD, linking with Melbourne Central and Flinders St Station, and down St Kilda Rd to Domain, before coming out in Caulfield, and
- a road tunnel, linking the end of the Eastern Freeway with the Tullamarine Freeway and then continuing on to finish somewhere around Footscray, with possible links to the docks area, Ballarat Road or some major routes headed towards the Westgate Freeway.

If all of the suggestions in Eddington's report were taken up, it would cost $18 Billion in today's money.

However, it is the East West Link car tunnel which has attracted the most attention.

The report states that it, alone, would cost close to $10 Billion. The data that Eddington uses shows that this tunnel would have an extremely low return on investment - it is not a good use of public funds. If, alternatively, it is paid for by private investment, the State Government, and the road users will be paying for it for many, many years. Paying financially, but then also most-probably, by contractual restriction in other potential solutions (eg: CityLink prevents the creation of a rail link from the CBD to the airport).

To construct the East West Link car tunnel, Eddington's report proposes using Royal Park and JJ Holland Park as 'staging areas'. These are two major points where drilling will commence from, and where piles of dirt etc can be stored when they come out of the shaft, before being transported elsewhere. According to the report, construction is liable to take around 8 years. Afterwards, there is some contradictions between the engineering report and what officials have said, but it could be that instead of parkland being reinstated, there could be an open cutting with a 6-lane highway where the parks were to "... enhance the driver experience..." (pg 75).

Artist's Impression of the cutting

So, in this age of increasing petrol prices, climate change and carbon consciousness, the State Government is suggesting spending $10 Billion on a tunnel which would encourage more car use and which will choke, just like any other main arterial near the city.

So what's a real solution? Spend the money on options that will encourage people not to drive their cars. If there are less cars on the roads, there is less traffic - leaving the roads for trucks, buses and taxis, and a minimum of private vehicular use.

This requires a number of long-term solutions, as outlined by many of the reports state governments had received prior to the Eddington report. A key one is massive spending on rail infrastructure :
- MANY people use public transport in Melbourne. However, they do it grudgingly. Others don't, because it's not meeting their needs as it is too inefficient. The current rail system, as it is, could handle many more trains running more frequently. The City Loop was designed so that trains on many lines could run as frequently as every 3-8 minutes.
- Increasing trains would have a flow-on effect to car traffic, as Melbourne has far too-many level crossings. Some key level crossings have already been earmarked for construction of under/over passes (Springvale Road) but this needs to continue. There are other massive level crossings in outer suburbs, and many, many closer to the city. More trains will mean more car traffic disruptions unless these works are undertaken.
- Current rail lines need to be extended, and the number of trains running on them need to be increased accordingly. (Not like the experience with the Craigieburn line (nee Broadmeadows) where the trains have been overflowing with passengers pretty-much since the line was extended.
- New rail lines need to be constructed. Many of the previous reports stated this, and the Doncaster Line is an obvious one.
- The State Government needs to encourage commerce and industry outside of the CBD and surrounds, so that people in outlying suburbs have less of a need for a long daily commute.

Many of these solutions would fit within the $18 Billion that the Eddington Report. And actually how much is $18 Billion? Well, it would solve Australia's Public Housing Issues. TWICE! So, we want to think very, very carefully about how we spend it!

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