Government traffic data casts doubt on Labor’s West Gate plan

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The Age: Government traffic data casts doubt on Labor’s West Gate plan. September 21, 2014, Farrah Tomazin, The Sunday Age’s state political editor.

Labor’s flagship plan to ease congestion in Melbourne’s west has been called into question by state government traffic modelling suggesting the policy won’t remove anywhere near the number of vehicles Daniel Andrews claims it will.

As an alternative to the East West Link, Labor has promised it will divert “5000 trucks a day” off the West Gate Bridge by building new on- and off-ramps from the West Gate Freeway, improving access to the port, and will also provide a series of upgrades along surrounding roads.

The so-called “West Gate Distributor” is the central plank of Mr Andrews’ transport pitch to voters in the west, and will be built within Labor’s first term if the opposition wins November’s election.

However, in a bid to cast doubt over the $500 million project, the government has unveiled traffic modelling suggesting the policy won’t deliver what Labor has promised.

According to a Port of Melbourne traffic survey report produced last October by GHD consultants, there are about 4130 trucks a day travelling to the port’s Swanson-Dynon precinct that originate from the west, and of them, only 30 per cent – or 1239 trucks – approached via the West Gate Freeway.

The remaining 70 per cent, the report says, approached via inner-west arterial roads, such Francis Street, Somerville Road, Buckley Street or Moore Street.

The government has used this data to assert its claim that Labor’s numbers don’t stack up, with Ports Minister David Hodgett accusing Mr Andrews of “announcing policy which is clearly drawn up on the back of a napkin”.

But shadow treasurer Tim Pallas rejected this, pointing out that Labor’s plan was based on credible data from Sir Rod Eddington (who found that over the next two decades the number of commercial vehicles travelling on the West Gate Bridge will double and the number of truck visits in and out of Swanson dock is likely to increase to as many as 12,000 a day) as well as a study by Ernst and Young, which found significant cost benefits would stem from the project.

“The government’s assumptions are wrong,” Mr Pallas said.

The war of words over whose transport figures are more credible demonstrates the sensitive nature of the debate ahead of this year’s state election. Mr Andrews previously said that while he did not support the East West Link, he would still build the road if contracts were signed before the poll, citing sovereign risk. Two weeks ago, in a controversial shift, he declared he would use a court challenge by two councils to render the project invalid, regardless of contracts.

The move is a high-stakes gamble that has worried some Labor MPs, but so far Mr Andrews has held firm, using policies such as the West Gate Distributor and the removal of level crossings to assure voters he has a better alternative.

The government, meanwhile, has used the backflip to claim Labor can’t be trusted, while the Greens, who previously threatened to issue open tickets against the ALP unless it pledged to rip up contracts, also remain critical, saying Mr Andrews hadn’t gone far enough.

“Labor haven’t changed their position on tearing up contracts. They are simply hoping someone else’s court case makes the contracts go away,” said Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber.

Federal Greens MP Adam Bandt agreed. Asked if the Greens still planned to run open tickets against Labor in narrowly held seats, Mr Bandt said: “I won’t be taking any further position on ‘open tickets’ and will leave it up to the state party. As long as we’re not preferencing the Liberals, I’m happy.”

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