Saturday, July 5, 2008

Back to the drawing board again

JUST two years after it launched a transport strategy that was meant to last Melbourne 25 years, the Brumby Government has confirmed it is working on its latest "major" transport plan.

At a public transport forum yesterday organised by the Eastern Transport Coalition, a grouping of seven eastern suburb councils, parliamentary secretary for public transport Rob Hudson said the Government would unveil the strategy later this year. "The Government will be producing a major transport statement at the end of the year which will look at transport needs right across the metropolitan area of Melbourne," Mr Hudson said.

In May 2006 then premier Steve Bracks released, amid much fanfare, his government's $10.5 billion Meeting Our Transport Challenges strategy.

Unveiling the plan in Frankston, Mr Bracks boasted that it laid out a 25-year vision for Victoria's transport network, and provided funding for the first decade. "We must act now to protect our world-class lifestyle," Mr Bracks said at the time.

But two years later, Melbourne's transport system is under severe stress: road congestion is costing the Victorian economy an estimated $1.3 billion per year, and public transport patronage is spiralling out of control as commuters ditch cars to avoid petrol price rises.

Rail operator Connex said last month that Melbourne's overcrowded rail system would go into meltdown unless action was taken soon. Patronage levels not expected to be reached until 2016 have already been achieved. Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu, who also spoke at yesterday's forum, said an umbrella transport strategy was desperately needed. "We do not have a major, overarching transport plan for this state, and in its absence we have a series of planning patchwork solutions that have failed," Mr Baillieu said.

The Eastern Transport Coalition used the forum to renew its call for the State Government to build rail lines down the Eastern Freeway to Doncaster, as was promised when the road was built in the 1970s. The coalition also wants a new rail line built to Rowville, and many more services added to the Lilydale and Belgrave lines.

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