Country roads are cracking up from rain and neglect, rail crossings, PT overcrowding and new train lines nelegected: Baillieu’s transport report card

It is an accepted part of the narrative of the 2010 election that Melburnians’ festering gripes about transport helped propel Ted Baillieu to a surprise win.

Confidence in Labor’s ability to manage the issue was low due to myki delays and cost blowouts and rail infrastructure being so run down it couldn’t even cope with hot weather.

Transport minister Terry Mulder pledged to make the trains more reliable by investing in sorely needed maintenance, and on that front he has achieved respectable results. Metro hits its punctuality targets almost every month now (although they’re not averse to skipping stations to give the stats a favourable nudge) and there are fewer vexing cancellations.

But laying new sleepers and fixing overhead wires alone won’t cater for the huge passenger growth Melbourne’s rail network is expected to see in coming years, and to that end the Baillieu government launched, as promised, a string of plans and studies for new railway lines — to Doncaster, Rowville, Tullamarine, Avalon and the Melbourne Metro tunnel from Kensington to South Yarra, its top rail project.

So it is fair to question why the east-west road tunnel has leapfrogged all of them to lead the government’s transport wish list when it was not promised from opposition. Neither has a business case been made, suggesting the determination to build it is based more on conviction than hard evidence. Recent poor returns from toll road projects in Brisbane and Sydney should give the government cause to think again.

Meanwhile, country roads are cracking up from a combination of rain and neglect through budget cuts. The government says the cuts are necessary to make up for Labor’s legacy of overspending but its own engineers in VicRoads warn that degraded roads just cost more to fix in the long run.

Adam Carey, The Age, 24 November 2012

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