Saturday, July 12, 2008

Peak-hour motorists forced into 23 km/h crawl

MELBOURNE'S traffic-choked road network is slowing down, leaving peak-hour motorists crawling through the city's inner core at just 23 kilometres an hour, a confidential VicRoads report shows.

The new figures come as the road authority releases its first data on the massive $2.25 billion expansion of Melbourne's Western Ring Road.

VicRoads has confirmed that the road works, jointly funded by the state and federal governments, will dwarf current disruptions on the Monash-West Gate upgrade, take half a decade to complete and cost almost as much as the EastLink project.

The VicRoads report on the state of Melbourne's road network shows drivers, fed up with delays on arterial roads, are opting for the city's already clogged freeways and tollways.

Drivers are travelling 3 million more kilometres a day on freeways than in the previous year, VicRoads' Traffic System Performance report, shows.

The draft figures contained in the study also show that:

  • Inner-city arterial roads with trams have sped up, calling into question the Government's new policy on extending clearway times.
  • 80% of cars on Melbourne's roads have only one occupant: the driver.
  • Drivers on Melbourne's roads cover 88 million kilometres every day, the same as last year.
  • The average all-day speed on Melbourne's roads has fallen to 40.8 km/h, a kilometre slower than the previous year.
  • Average freeway speeds are just 59 km/h in the morning peak, three kilometres faster than the previous year.

Fewer inner-city residents are driving their car, the study shows, while there has been an increase in the kilometres travelled by outer-suburban drivers - pointing to the lack of public transport options in outer Melbourne.

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told The Age this week that improved rail links were desperately needed to reduce commuting times in Australia's big cities. The time workers spent in cars crawling to work was "a national tragedy", he said.

"Many working parents spend more time commuting to work in their cars than they do at home with their kids," he said. "Better urban transport in terms of rail links (will) mean (drivers) are using roads that are less congested."

The report will alarm many motorists as the school holidays end tomorrow, and thousands of motorists are predicted to use EastLink for the first time. The toll road is free until July 27, and figures released by operator ConnectEast this week showed that already 275,000 drivers are using it a day - causing traffic at the end of the Eastern Freeway to increase by about 5%.

The RACV said the figures showed there was a need for better public transport and cycling options, to help speed up the road network by getting drivers out of their cars. "There is obviously increased congestion on the arterial road system, combined with overcrowding on public transport," public policy manager Brian Negus said.

He said the increase in travel on freeways was likely a result of overcrowding on public transport. "People have tried the trains, and are going back the other way - and that's adding to the arterial congestion," he said.

The State Government's clearways plan - which will see clearways extended from their current hours to 6.30am to 10am, and 3pm to 7pm - was desperately needed, he said. The marginal improvement on inner-city travel speeds was due to clearway extensions already in place, such as on Sydney Road, Mr Negus said. "To get public transport freed up, you need to move more cars," he said.

While the number of kilometres travelled has not changed from last year's figures, VicRoads regional services director Ted Vincent revealed that traffic on the Western Ring Road had surged by between 11% and 20% in the five years to 2007.

Works to upgrade the road will take five years and will start late next year.

Public transport advocates lashed out at the level of roads spending, saying it would do nothing to reduce travel times.

Professor Nick Low, of Melbourne University's transport planning research centre, said the amount spent building roads was sickening, especially when public transport so desperately needed more.

"You can't build your way out of a problem when the roads system is not capable of carrying the car numbers already being injected into it by the radial freeways," he said.

Professor Low ridiculed Sir Rod Eddington's proposed tunnel link between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink, saying it would increase congestion in inner Melbourne. "The answer is obviously public transport and not more roads," he said.

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