On Monday 9th December, The Brumby government released its Victorian Transport Plan. As expected, the Government deferred the East-West Tunnel from the Eastern Freeway to Royal Park.
So can the Yarra community take a collective breath? Probably not. Holland Park has definitely been saved, but Royal Park has merely had its execution stayed and the North Fitzroy Gasworks site will remain in limbo, as will people who’s homes are next to Alexandra Parade. Of great concern is that road builders are now looking to build a freeway called the North-East Link, from the Metropolitan Ring Road in Greensborough to the Eastern Freeway in Bulleen (See map). This could impact some of Melbourne’s most important bushland. Friend’s of Banyule have started a petition.
The decision to defer Eddington’s East-West road tunnel was expected given the electoral pressure faced by Government MPs in these inner northern seats, and the strong campaign by YCAT and many other groups.
The Government has only deferred the East-West tunnel until political circumstances allow a future government to have another crack at it, argued Prof Bill Russell in Almost but not quite the ticket, The Age Dec 5] and Projects that don’t make a strategy, [The Age April 3]
The Government has not ruled it out (as the earlier NCCC study found it was not required) or given any reasons for leaving it out (such as the negative Return on Investment that the Eddington Study reported).
Other parts of the road network are going ahead which will feed more congestion to Alexandra Parade and surrounding streets. The Frankston Bypass will attract traffic onto EastLink, as will the new roads being introduced in the West and the ports.
The failure to support Doncaster Rail will add to congestion on the Eastern Freeway. The extraordinary number of buses required to replace a single train will add to the already heavy traffic on Hoddle St and city streets.
The plan for Johnston St and Victoria Parade overpasses above Hoddle Street are a major concern to Yarra as these favour cars and are impenetrable to every one else.
For the local environment, it may seem better to bury Hoddle Street, as this would allow an improvement of surface permeability for the 109 tram, cyclists, pedestrians, prams and wheel chairs. It may even allow opportunities for Collingwood Town Hall to be restored with a plaza over Hoddle Street, or for a new tram line from Fitzroy North to Toorak.
Burying Hoddle Street has been studied before by both the Kennett Government in 1999 and the 2001-2003 Northern Central City Corridor (NCCC) study. NCCC found a clear route from the freeway would merely move traffic queues into the tunnel, because cars still trickle out the exit into Albert Street. Issues like on and off ramps, destruction of heritage, elm avenues, exhaust stacks and cost are just as problematic as the East-West tunnel. Local Councils argue that Doncaster Rail would be a better investment, and a better long term solution.
No doubt YCAT and the City of Yarra will be giving close attention to this study. As with the NCCC study, the scope of the Hoddle Street Corridor Study must include Doncaster Rail, Doncaster Buses, The proposed Victoria Park bus Terminal, and plans for Johnston Street.
The pathetic budget for bicycle infrastructure shows the government’s contempt for the bike lobby. There will not be any large mode-shift to cycle commuting from this plan. Pedestrians fared even worse with no budget allocations. The VTP will create a token Public Bike Hire Scheme, which no one actually asked for. Is it a way to be seen to encourage cycling without upsetting the Minister for Roads and the road lobby. Lets hope the new riders are not put off by roads designed for cars and trucks only.
Of great concern is the massive funding for road building, coupled with related announcements to expand the urban sprawl. Melbourne 2030 called for a restriction on the urban boundary, but the government keeps releasing new land beyond the fringes and blames population increases, but the government doesn’t have a population policy, only an economic growth policy. The VTP is the latest evidence that the government is unwilling to commit to a sustainable future.
Compared to past transport plans, there is a greater investment in public transport than has been seen for a long time. The budget is mainly being spent on big ticket items such as a Footscray to Domain tunnel, and a new line through one of Melbourne 2030’s green wedges to Werribee. New trains and trams are welcome, as is the extension of the Epping Line, however there are many inexpensive gains that the PTUA has long argued for that are being ignored. A simplification of the growing transport bureaucracy is not part of agenda. Connex and the department are running a coordinated PR campaign to shift attention away from the poor operational performance of the network as if to say that only the new tunnel will fix the delays and unreliability of the service. The $200 million Improving Train Operations is about delivering new technologoy, rather than organisational change.
Incredibly, last month Connex removed morning services from Clifton HIll to the City Loop. An 8 minute journey to Parliament is now 21 minutes on a good day. In the month since the new timetable was introduced, there have not been any good days.
The overcrowded morning trains which used to run directly from Jollimont to Parliament would very occasionally have to wait up to 30 seconds for an outbound train heading from Flinders Street to Clifton Hill. Now the overcrowded train has to wait at Jollimont, then again on the way to Flinders St, and for an unspecified time at Flinders St while drivers are changed, and again on the way to Southern Cross.
The problem is the journey beyond Flinders Street is treated as a separate service by Connex, and they re not fined for these delays despite hundreds of passengers waiting on the train at Flinders Street each morning. This has been sold as an initiative called “Untangling the Loop”. It was supported by the Govermnet and the PTUA. It saves Connex the bother of swapping the loop direction at lunch time, but at huge inconvenience to passengers.
There is no time to relax, each stage of the VTP must be watched and questioned. Only when real benefits are delivered, can the plan be finally assessed.