Thursday, December 4, 2008

Emergency lanes to make way for more traffic on West Gate Bridge

Ashley Gardiner

EXCLUSIVE: EMERGENCY lanes on the West Gate Bridge will make way for more traffic in a bid to tackle Melbourne's congestion crisis.

An extra lane across the bridge in both directions could make room for 40,000 more motorists a day.

The Herald Sun believes the plan will be a major plank of the State Government's transport blueprint, to be released within days.

A $2 billion road tunnel under Footscray is also tipped, as is a substantial increase in suburban rolling stock to cope with booming public transport numbers.

At least 20 extra trains and about 100 trams will be bought, and the Preston tram depot is set for a $200 million expansion.

Victoria's peak motoring organisation, the RACV, confirmed yesterday it had promoted the West Gate expansion idea.

The expansion plan would mean the scrapping of a proposal to change the direction of one lane according to the time of day.

RACV public policy manager Brian Negus said the organisation had lobbied against the so-called contra-flow lane plan.

"We have been saying that's not a desirable outcome," Mr Negus said.

Traffic would be monitored constantly, as it is on CityLink, by closed-circuit television.

A similar arrangement will be in place along CityLink's southern link when the current upgrade is finished.

Lanes could be closed in an instant from a control room using electronic overhead signs, as is done in the tunnels, to compensate for the lost emergency lane.

The bridge would be strengthened to carry the extra traffic.

VicRoads has been conducting a detailed structural investigation.

A source said the Government had decided to build only one section of the east-west tunnel proposed by transport expert Sir Rod Eddington. The tunnel would run under Footscray and the Maribyrnong River underneath Buckley St.

It would connect Geelong and Sunshine roads with Dynon and Footscray roads.

By providing a new link to the ports area, the tunnel would remove much of the truck traffic from the inner western suburbs.

A source said a decision not to build a road tunnel under Kensington, Carlton and Fitzroy for now was politically easier.

The Herald Sun has previously reported the Government's decision to go ahead with the first stages of the underground rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield.

The Tarneit rail link, between Sunshine and Werribee, will also form part of the package, as will electrification of the rail line to Sunbury. Extending rail services to South Morang is also expected.

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the Government appeared to be ignoring several of Sir Rod's recommendations.

"The road (tunnel) project doesn't appear to be what Sir Rod wanted," Mr Mulder said.

Releasing his report on east-west transport this year, Sir Rod cautioned against cherry-picking his recommendations.

"Not only are they cherry-picking, but also altering the recommendations of Sir Rod," Mr Mulder said.

The decisions on which projects to adopt have been affected by the global financial crisis.

State Government transport spokesman George Svigos declined to comment when contacted by the Herald Sun yesterday.

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