The final submissions on the East West Link tollway, were heard on Tuesday (15 April, 2014) and the Assessment Committee has now retired to write its report. It is charged with deciding whether the tollway should be approved, and if so under what conditions.
Over the last 6 weeks the six panel members have been hearing evidence about the Comprehensive Impact Statement or CIS. It received 1430 submissions and heard from 210 individuals and community groups. However the public still don’t have a full picture of the costs and impacts and the expert witnesses clashed over the claims made for this project.
Apart from the LMA and its consultants, precious few people supported the need for this freeway. Only one proponent, the RACV asked to be heard.
The Committee did not hear from Vicroads, PTV, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, Zoos Victoria, Melbourne Water and other Departments were silent. The Federal Government and Infrastructure Australia were absent – despite committing $1.5 billion to the project without a public Business Case.
No Government local MPs and no Councils from the eastern suburbs (the areas supposedly benefitting from the tollway) made representations. The only politicians to address the Assessment Committee came from the ALP and the Greens – and they were uniformly in strong opposition to the project – criticising the haste and lack of process.
Apart from the LMA witnesses, there has been an almost uninterrupted chorus of opposition to this project. Residents gave evidence on air and noise pollution, dubious traffic projections, inadequacies in the CIS, conflicting information and a lack of transparency.
Numerous proposals have been made to fix flaws in the design. Additional measures proposed to avoid or minimise impacts, and prudent and feasible alternatives put forward that should have been considered but were not included in the CIS.
Many of these people, some in very difficult circumstances, risk losing their homes as a result of the proposed East West Link or find themselves next to a noisy and unwanted major traffic artery.
And a very clogged artery it will be. Citylink is already heavily congested in the peak and the idea traffic from the new tunnel will merge smoothly into these queues is a fantasy. The idea of “congestion busting” is another fantasy. The queues in the Burnley tunnel, Westgate Bridge and Citylink testify – you can’t build your way out of a traffic jam.
The plans for a second stage to connect to the Port of Melbourne by a second viaduct down the Moonee Ponds Creek show reckless disregard for the residents in the high rise buildings less than 50 metres from the proposed road. Community facilities and the Moonee Ponds Creek would be severely damaged and even inner Melbourne’s major electricity substation is at risk from this design.
Many do not want any freeway at all, some want it to be designed differently to avoid or minimise impacts, some just want to resolve the impact the tollway will have on their home or local community or receive compensation. But none of them want the LMA’s “reference design” – the actual proposal the Committee has to assess.
In the end, there are three choices before the Committee, it can approve the project, recommend it go ahead with changes or simply send it back to the LMA to redesign.
Will it follow the dubious economics of road engineers or will it make a bold statement that in a time of scarce tax payer dollars, decisions must be publicly justified by proven outcomes?
The values of our city must be protected and priority given to public transport to play the same important role in Melbourne that it does in London, Paris and New York As several people have said – no one would dream of a cut and cover freeway through Central Park or Hyde Park
Thirty-five years ago an eight lane surface freeway was proposed up Alexandra Parade and through Carlton, cutting a swathe through what was depicted as almost slum housing. It was never built, something nobody today would regret.
That hasn’t stopped Melbourne prospering and growing dramatically. Traffic on Alexandra Parade grew to capacity and has since slowly declined. Yet public transport patronage has doubled from a low of 260 million passengers a year in 1980 to 520 million today.
Equally, when people look back in 2031 no-one will regret that there is no East West tunnel.
Instead, they will still enjoy Royal Park as a central part of Melbourne, the Moonee Ponds Creek as a reborn natural feature of a vibrant inner west and appreciate the public transport improvements made possible by the money not spent on this freeway.
If the project proceeds it is likely to unleash a new period of civil conflict over the construction of a project that clearly lacks a social licence or an economic justification. As one submitter memorably said “As a society, can we afford a project whose first sod is turned inside a barbed wire cage ringed by riot police?”
As numerous submitters have said in their own way, Melbourne will live forever with the conclusions that the Assessment Committee draws. It is a turning point for our city and Victoria.
Andrew Herington is a former Labor adviser who helped coordinate community groups presenting at the Assessment Committee hearings.
- Page 1 – Judgement time on East West Link
- Page 2 – Closing Submission to the Assessment Committee on the Comprehensive Impact Statement for the East West Link