East West Link: the case for and against Melbourne’s $6.8bn road

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An excellent and objective history of the atttempts to bulid a toll road and summary of the politics by Gay Alcorn in the Guardian October 10 2014.

“A looming 18km of toll road has become Victoria’s great divide. But let’s put the political passions aside and consider the project on its merits”

Alcorn concludes “Its rationale may be dubious and the process may have been scandalous. But the money has been raised, the contracts signed and the cost of pulling out would be crippling. If Labor wins the election despite all that, it might be a sign that the public really does want to get serious about public transport. That, as they say, would be a game-changer.”

Ed. In fact, proceeding would be more crippling than pulling out before any real costs are sunk. 

 

It’s a “congestion buster”, a “game-changer”, a “dud”. It’s a road, the East West Link, the most contentious, emotionally charged flashpoint in next month’s Victorian election. Swirling around the politics, the court challenges and the price tag is a question: is this 18km toll road a good idea? And even if it does have merit, are there better ideas that would ease Melbourne’s gridlock more cheaply?

I’ve tried to tease out this question with the help of transport and urban planning experts and others. I’ve tried to ignore the politics, which are fraught indeed, and focus on the merits of the East West Link as a project and a case study in how infrastructure policy works – or doesn’t work – in this country.

To begin, here are four transport consultants, engineers and academics with vast theoretical and practical experience. Here’s their bottom-line answer to that question: is the East West Link a good idea for Melbourne?

William McDougall, infrastructure engineer and transport consultant who has worked on several projects in Victoria, including an early study into the link: “Having studied the East West Link several times over the years, I’m convinced that it’s not needed.“

Dr Alan March, associate professor of urban planning at Melbourne University: “I look at this as a choice about where public investment and resources are going and, when it is compared with other short-term and long-term choices that could be made, this is not a good choice.”

Dr John Stone, lecturer in transport policy, University of Melbourne: “This project has problems because the only credible cost benefit analysis has shown that it is not going to make a return on the investment that we make.”

Professor Graham Currie, Australia’s first professor of public transport, at Monash University, with 30 years experience as a transit planner: “Is it a good idea to build more motorways in inner areas? I think it’s of questionable value. It smudges congestion around a bit but doesn’t really solve it.”

The expert view is consistent – the East West Link may bring some benefits, but it should not be the top priority for a city expected to be home to nearly 8 millionpeople by mid-century.

All are sceptical of the finances, dismayed by the secrecy surrounding the project, and convinced that the state needs a big shift in thinking if it’s going to cope well with a surging population. They say what’s needed is a tilt towards a mass public transport system.

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