Sunday, May 6, 2012

Herald-Sun : Ten more years of stress until tunnel takes the pressure off

LONG-suffering Melbourne drivers face at least another 10 years of chronic and worsening congestion before work is completed on a major tunnel project to clear Eastern Freeway traffic out of city streets.

Government sources said this week the Baillieu Government was "red hot" about making a start on the immense $9 billion project that would rival CityLink and the railway City Loop in its scope.
The 18km tolled road link could slash cross-town traffic levels through Fitzroy and Brunswick as well as down Hoddle St, and bring major benefits to Melbourne's western suburbs.
But despite committing $15 million in last week's Budget to start work on a business case for the project, the Government is facing huge difficulties in obtaining funding because of the economic downturn and Federal Government spending cutbacks.
Under the project - recommended four years ago by infrastructure consultant Sir Rod Eddington - a tunnel would be built to allow Eastern Freeway traffic to drive to CityLink without stopping, and then continue to the Western Ring Road near the Deer Park bypass.
Read the whole article here -

With a headline like that, it appears the Herald Sun want the casual observer to think it's a done deal.  As you read, it's more like they're attempting to gather support for the East-West link.  And it's support they know they already have.  After all, the traffic has got worse in the last 3 years, and will continue to do so.

What this actually has actually done is cherry-pick the old content from the Eddington Report that suggested the use of an East-West road link.  (The Eddington Report included the Tarneit Rail line, the Metro Rail Tunnel and many other suggestions also). Indeed, even the budgets they quote were from that original report - which many believe were underscoped four years ago. And it states 'tunnel' where more recent discussion incorporates the potential for more (or all) of it to be elevated roadway.

The arguments for funding this road-based solution to Melbourne's transport woes are as flawed as they've always been.  Sure, it will help the tiny percentage of people who would be making the trip all the way from the east to the west (and west to east, of course).  But, an overwhelming majority of travellers use our freeways to come into the CBD. These works would move the choke points to another off-ramp.  And, as has been evidenced by the works which have occurred on the M1-Westgate Fwy-CityLink, if you build it, it will fill.  And once full, it becomes frustrating and ineffective.

The recent announcement by the state government is to fund yet another report.  But this one will include some test drilling (core samples) to ascertain the nature of the geology where they'd like to build the link.  (Similar has been happening near JJ Holland Park a few months back, for the purposes of the aforementioned underground Metro Rail line, from Footscray through to Parkville and then down to Domain).

What else hasn't changed is the dependence upon Federal funding to make this occur.  The Federal Government provides funding for huge infrastructure developments such as these - even with another Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, it's highly unlikely the funding could be secured without Federal assistance, as with the GFC, key PPP players are less likely to invest in long term, low return projects.  The Federal Government has denied funding this in the past, and has been more amenable to funding public transport based solutions (even so, the Metro Tunnel remains on the backburner).

So what has changed?  Traffic has got worse - which is no surprise, as they're building more new suburbs further out, with no effective public transport support, and a shiny new EastLink freeway to feed people on to it - and the freeways from the South East and the West, with their recent works have, again, encouraged more use than their improvements have solved.

The costs will have changed.  The $9M figure quoted was from the original Eddington Report.  Four years ago, this was largely believed to be inaccurate, and insufficient.  And that was in today's money in 2008. In 2012, it's likely to cost a lot more, and as the years go by, that true figure would increase significantly.  And again, all for little real benefit.

What else has changed?  The State Government.  And, as this week's budget announcements have shown, they're keen to get things done - regardless of whether that thing is right, or if it's wrong.  And the future, with Federal politics they way they currently are, who knows?

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