The Age takes the east-west morning peak hour challenge

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The Age takes the east-west morning peak hour challenge. Darren Gray. November 27, 2014

The East West peak-hour challenge

Reporter Darren Gray woke up with the sparrows on Wednesday to test how long it currently takes to drive from Melbourne’s outer eastern suburb of Chirnside Park to the airport during the morning peak.

Our peak hour drive starts in Champagne Rise, a quiet street in the outer eastern suburb of Chirnside Park almost 40 kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD. It’s nearly 7am, but the street is wide awake. At one house a man hangs up Christmas decorations as a young boy watches on, while across the road a man strides towards his car for the morning commute.

The Age departs Champagne Rise at 7.05am, on a journey to test what morning peak hour traffic is like for people who live in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. For those who drive along the Eastern Freeway and into the CBD, or beyond the CBD and up CityLink to Melbourne Airport, we are observing how the traffic moves, what are the congestion hotspots and what happens at the end of the Eastern Freeway?

Wait your turn … The Eastern Freeway near Hoddle Street on the day of our test. Photo: Eddie Jim

For airport-bound vehicles and those heading to Flemington or nearby, what happens when three lanes become two, which then squeeze into one after crossing Royal Parade? In essence, we are examining what is the trip like right now for motorists who will benefit from the controversial multi-billion-dollar East West Link, if it is built?

Within four minutes we are off the quiet residential streets and on Maroondah Highway. Traffic is not heavy and we get to the Ringwood Bypass before we are stopped by a red light. At the precise moment we pass them traffic is not heavy at the local bus stops either. A lone man waits at a bus stop in Croydon North as cars rush by, while a couple more prospective passengers wait a little further along.

It is not until we turn onto the bypass that we get our first vision of brake lights on a large scale, on the north side of Ringwood. Traffic slows considerably as it merges onto East Link, but flows well through the Melba Tunnel. Outside the tunnel traffic flows smoothly at about 80-90 kilometres per hour.

But near Middleborough Road in Blackburn North, at 7.25am, we almost come to a complete standstill. A short time later, as we near Tram Road in Doncaster, traffic is bumper-to-bumper and at a complete standstill for a moment. It seems that the freeway’s other three lanes of traffic are also stopped, and yet we are still about 14 kilometres from the freeway’s end. Frustratingly, some drivers insist on swapping lanes without giving much notice, and yet end up gaining just a few metres in the heavy traffic.

There are sedans, four-wheel-drives, tradesmen’s utes and other vehicles crawling along. While it’s impossible to look at every vehicle, there appears to be only a driver – and not a single passenger – in many of them.

But after this temporary logjam the traffic gets moving again. At 7.36am we are travelling almost 100 kilometres per hour as we pass the Chandler Highway exit in Kew, and it’s like we are on a different road.

This burst of speed is short-lived though, and in a moment we’re at the back of many hundreds of metres of traffic banked up at the end of the freeway, where it runs into Alexandra Parade. Traffic seems to be moving here a bit more quickly in the right hand lanes, rather than the lanes exiting the freeway at Hoddle Street.

There are plenty of cars, but for those travelling along Alexandra Parade the reality this morning is that they are moving quite consistently. We make it to Wellington Street, Collingwood at 7.47am, just after a radio announcement informs listeners of traffic conditions.

High above Alexandra Parade a Liberal Party billboard featuring Premier Denis Napthine spruiks the East West Link, while a little further along another prominent billboard spruiks ice-creams.

We negotiate the turns past the cemetery with minimal fuss, go from two lanes to one without a hiccup, and at 7.58am we have just passed the zoo; we have been driving for 53 minutes. We have quite a wait in a turning lane to get onto Flemington Road, but once we are on CityLink it is an easy drive to the airport.

We arrive at the domestic departures area at 8.19am, precisely 74 minutes after we left Champagne Rise. We have covered about 58 kilometres.

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