By John Legge, a Melbourne author, educator and consultant.
Printed in The Age, January 22, 2010
VicRoads and its minister are talking of spending $750 million to move the main traffic jam from the corner of Hoddle and Victoria streets to the intersection of Hoddle Street and Bridge Road.
This gives new Transport Minister Martin Pakula an opportunity to make an early mark by fixing the Hoddle Street traffic snarl with a few tram and light rail extensions.
The simple fact is that more cars are attempting to use the road between the end of the Eastern Freeway and Victoria Street than the road can handle at anything faster than a bumper-to-bumper crawl. Drivers endure this because the alternatives are worse.
Once upon a time there was a plan to build a heavy rail service to Doncaster running along the median of the Eastern Freeway, but in the 1980s the car ruled supreme, the site of the proposed Doncaster railway station was sold to developers, and the Eastern Freeway east of Bulleen Road was built with a narrow median.
To build a railway now would be extraordinarily disruptive, extraordinarily expensive or both; and by the time it was completed there would be no capacity in the central rail system for the trains. Tunnelling under the city would make the project even more expensive.
Countries such as India, China and Hong Kong, and Singapore apparently afford metro systems using extensive tunnels, but it seems Australia can’t.
But Melbourne can afford trams and light rail, and its citizens use and like them. $750 million could build 100 kilometres of light rail on existing roads or median strips; and a light rail system down the Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade median strips could carry more people per hour than the entire freeway does now – and at a decent speed. When people see the light rail system as a faster alternative to driving, they will choose it until enough drivers have made the switch to bring down congestion and increase road speeds.
There is a median wide enough for a light rail service on the Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade from Nicholson Street to the Bulleen Road exit; some civil works would be needed to cross the Yarra and to get from the freeway median to the Alexandra Parade median and from the freeway median at Bulleen Road to Thompsons Road: set aside $200 million for these.
There is also a median on the old outer-circle route from the corner of Harp Road and Doncaster Road to the Chandler Highway freeway exit: another bit of civil work would be needed to get the light rail from this median to the freeway median: let us set aside $50 million for this little link.
We can now create two new tram-light rail routes. Both will be from the city via Nicholson Street and Alexandra Parade to the Eastern Freeway; and once on the freeway median they would run non-stop to their exit point.
One route would leave the freeway at the Chandler Highway exit and join the 48 North Balwyn tram route at Harp Road; the route would then be extended to Doncaster. The second route would leave the freeway at the Bulleen Road exit and then run along Thompsons Road, Manningham Road and Williamsons Road across Doncaster Road and down Tram Road and Station Street to Box Hill station.
The journey from the Doncaster Road-Williamsons Road intersection to the corner of Bourke and Spring streets could take as little as 40 minutes. The same journey by car would take a little more than 20 minutes in light traffic, but most of the day traffic on this route isn’t light.
The journey from the corner of Thompsons and Manningham Roads to the corner of Spring and Bourke streets would take 22 minutes, only slightly longer than a car in light traffic. That is about 25 kilometres of new tram-light rail track costing under $200 million; civil works costing $250 million; and 20 new light rail vehicles for $100 million and a total of $550 million.
The 15 kilometres of tram routes off the freeway will directly service at least 12,000 properties, more if some commuters will use a feeder bus or walk more than 500 metres; and it only takes a fraction of these to use the new service to relieve the Hoddle Street congestion.
The Hoddle Street problem would be solved; and there would be $200 million extra in the kitty for government advertising to tell us about it. Simple really.