The Age: East-west Link may have raised peak-hour tolls. March 3, 2014. Adam Carey, Clay Lucas
Motorists who use the east-west Link in the peak could pay a higher toll than those who drive on the planned road outside of rush-hour.
In what would be a first for Melbourne motorists, a “variable toll” could be set as a way to manage peak-hour traffic flows on the link road, which is ultimately planned to run between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road via the Port of Melbourne.
The prospect of higher peak-hour tolls was raised on the first morning of the Napthine government’s 30-day planning panel hearing into the $6 billion-$8 billion project.
Planning lawyer Stuart Morris, QC, who is representing state agency the Linking Melbourne Authority, said variable tolls could be set by the government as a way to manage congestion.
“Variable tolls can be used, for example, so that the toll during the peak hour can be higher than the toll outside of the peak hour,” Mr Morris said. “So if there is a desire to ensure that the traffic always moves at a reasonable speed during the peak hour, the fact that the government will be the tolling body and will be able to use tolls as a demand management tool puts it in a significantly different position than the existing toll roads.”
Fairfax Media can also reveal that serious doubts were expressed about the economic case for the east-west link, by a senior consultant contracted by the Coalition government to review the unpublished business case.
In written advice obtained by Fairfax Media, leading transport consultant Chris Tehan questioned the merits of how the Transport Department evaluated the road’s economic benefits. This included “the way that they eastern section [between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink] is sometimes considered as a stand-alone and sometimes as part of the full scheme”.
“There is a standard approach that could be taken, which does not appear to have been followed and which helps to provide greater clarity,” Mr Tehan wrote to Paul Smith, the department’s senior project manager for the East West Link.
Mr Tehan also questioned the large gap between the benefit-cost ratio for the road under conventional assessment methods (“saved travel time and operating costs”) against wider economic benefits.
“Initial observations are that the ratio between the two is very atypical with the latter being much higher as a proportion of overall benefits than would normally be expected,” he wrote.
Mr Tehan is a principal at leading consultancy Evans & Peck and has prepared business cases to Infrastructure Australia on some of the state’s biggest recent major projects – including the Metro rail tunnel and the Dandenong rail capacity project.
The email exchange was obtained by Andrew Herington, a former senior adviser to premier John Brumby, under freedom-of-information laws.
Meanwhile at Monday’s panel hearing, Ian Pitt, SC, for the City of Melbourne, said higher peak-hour tolls could throw out the government’s East West Link traffic projections.
“It is not apparent traffic modelling has been undertaken on the basis that tolls will be variable,” Mr Pitt said.
In response, Transport Minister Terry Mulder told Fairfax Media: “Our approach will see the state responsible for tolls, while the private sector will be responsible for construction of the tunnel on budget and on time. Toll pricing for the East West Link will be comparable with CityLink and EastLink.”
The City of Melbourne submitted a list of several new changes it would like to see as part of the East West Link, which must be considered by the Linking Melbourne Authority.
These included reducing Alexandra Parade, one of Melbourne’s most jammed roads, from three through lanes to two, and abandoning the plan to build a north-bound exit at Elliott Avenue in Royal Park.
It also called for:
■ “No net loss of open space due to the project”.
■ No “cut and cover” construction through Royal Park, east of the Upfield railway line.
■ The reconfiguration of Flemington Road and Haymarket roundabout to make it safer for cycling and with increased opportunity for tree planting.
Yarra Council also attacked the project in its opening comments to the panel, saying repeated claims of the road tunnel’s benefits by the Linking Melbourne Authority had not been substantiated.
Yarra’s barrister Adrian Finanzio, SC said the project being assessed by the planning panel would “simply never be built”.
This meant, he said, that “anything could happen” when the final road was built because the road authority was asking for the approval of performance measures that would “facilitate some undefined transport project”.
He said the project, whatever benefits it might have for the metropolis, would also have significant negative impacts, including enormous disruption during the five-year construction program, the destruction of numerous heritage buildings and the devaluation of land not “blessed” by acquisition.
Moonee Valley Council’s barrister at the hearings, Louise Hicks, said that in some cases those with “the least resilience” such as the residents of the Flemington public housing flats were being asked to bear the greatest impacts of the new road project.
She said much “precious open space” would be lost in the council’s areas, as well as increased impacts on local roads as a result of the East West Link being built.