From Kenneth Davidson, The Age, November 28, 2011
Successive Victorian governments have been keen to extend the Eastern Freeway from its Hoddle Street end via a tunnel under Melbourne Cemetery and Royal Park to CityLink.
It is a stinker. As most of the 40,000 cars hitting Hoddle Street at the morning peak want to get into the city, there will need to be exit ramps into Collingwood, Fitzroy and Carlton — which will cause inner-city gridlock.
The first inquiry into the east-west tunnel proposal for the Bracks government, in 2004, accepted the evidence of academic transport planner Paul Mees, who said that most of the traffic coming off the freeway went into central Melbourne and only 15 per cent went to the northern or western suburbs.
The 2004 study concluded that the need for extra road capacity was ”questionable” and the ”road tunnel options investigated are not considered justifiable, mainly because the economic benefits do not cover the high cost, and the social and environmental impacts are mixed”.
The Bracks government did not even bother to respond to the report.
In 2007 it set up a new inquiry under Sir Rod Eddington, staffed by bureaucrats from the pro-roads Transport Department. The first question it should have asked was where did the 2004 study go wrong.
Eddington’s report favoured the east-west link and two rail projects — the Melbourne Metro underground from Footscray to Caulfield and the Regional Rail Link from Footscray to Werribee. The report was delivered in 2008, two months after Eddington had been appointed chairman of Infrastructure Australia, whose task was to evaluate applications for funding infrastructure projects from state governments.
The Regional Rail Link, the most expensive transport infrastructure project ever approved, got $3.2 billion in Commonwealth funding for the now estimated $5 billion project. An independent review of the project in 2008 by Edward Dotson, a former transport planner for the World Bank who worked for the Melbourne Public Transport Authority, was scathing. He said the Eddington report could be best described as the ”pre-feasibility stage”.
This judgment was backed up by the head of the Transport Department, Jim Betts, who told an infrastructure conference two weeks ago that the $5 billion project had been ”budgeted on the back of an envelope”.
Betts was forced to apologise to Eddington by Premier Ted Baillieu. Betts said in his letter to Eddington that he wasn’t aware that journalists were at the conference.