CityLink founder warns ‘wrong way, go back’ on East West Link

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The Age: CityLink founder warns ‘wrong way, go back’ on East West Link September 8, 2014, Adam Carey, Transport Reporter for The Age

CityLink engineer Alan Hale says public transport is the answer to Melbourne’s traffic congestion. Photo: Jason South

It was the turn of the 1990s, Victoria’s economy was as lank as Kurt Cobain’s hair and civil engineers were scratching around for work.

Alan Hale and his colleagues at Acer Wargon Chapman used their ample downtime to draw up plans for a toll road and tunnel beneath the Yarra that would cure Melbourne’s chronic north-south traffic woes.

Interviewed by The Age in August 1991, Mr Hale spruiked the benefits of the proposed road, which would later become CityLink, declaring it would create thousands of jobs and remedy the congestion that had turned King Street and Swanston Street into veritable car parks.

Now retired, Mr Hale still believes CityLink changed Melbourne for the better and helped revive the CBD. But he holds startlingly different views about the value of Melbourne’s current mega road project, the East West Link.

Mr Hale says the 5.2-kilometre toll road is “the wrong priority and will not alleviate congestion across the city” and that the Napthine government is set to sign on to a project that will set Melbourne back for years.

“The evidence from cities around the world where real renewal has been achieved is that public transport should be the primary focus, not just more and more roads,” he says.

“For those of us who have been involved in major transport projects long enough, the lessons learnt, often the hard way, are that building more roads without investing in public transport is simply a recipe for inducing more vehicular travel.”

CityLink was followed by the construction of EastLink, then Peninsula Link, as Victoria continued to build new roads instead of rail lines. Mr Hale argues it is time Melbourne followed other smart cities around the globe and redressed the imbalance.

The former roads engineer’s road to Damascus moment came while working with a company that had built a tram network for the French city of Strasbourg, which turned the CBD into a pedestrian haven by redirecting vehicle traffic to a new outer ring road.

Mr Hale, no public transport purist, argues completing the “missing link” in the ring road between Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway would similarly “make a lot of sense” because, unlike the East West Link, it would divert traffic away from the inner suburbs.

The Napthine government is on course to sign contracts within weeks for stage one of the East West Link, a $6 billion to $8 billion connection between the end of the Eastern Freeway in Collingwood and CityLink in Flemington.

A recent traffic study commissioned by the government found it could save motorists an hour a day in travel time compared with driving along congested above-ground roads.

Napthine government spokeswoman Larissa Garvin defended the government’s record, arguing that “more than half of the government’s $24 billion infrastructure program is being spent on public transport”.

“But public transport alone can’t get your groceries to your supermarket, can’t get tradies to their sites, can’t get mums to the places they need to be each day, and it certainly can’t get big trucks off local roads,” Ms Garvin said. “The reality is that both rail and roads are needed, and we are doing both.”

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