Transport planning lost in the politics, says Rowville rail study chief

Planning for new transport projects in Victoria has become hopelessly politicised, the architect of the Napthine government’s Rowville rail study and one of the state’s most experienced infrastructure engineers says.

And the “uncertainty and confusion” created by the Coalition and Labor proposing competing projects, such as the location of Melbourne’s next port and the route of a new underground city rail line, have knocked over growing momentum for change in the state.

“We’ve thrown away planning and replaced it with political posturing,” said William McDougall, an engineer who has worked on several of the state’s big transport projects over the past decade including an early study of the East West Link, the now abandoned Melbourne Metro project, and the Rowville rail plan.

Transport Minister Terry Mulder hailed Mr McDougall as a top rail planning expert when he was appointed to lead a feasibility study of Rowville in 2011.

Mr McDougall, speaking in the wake of a new campaign to push for Rowville to be built sooner than 2026 as planned, said new rail lines like it could be built.

But he said the politicisation of the planning process in Victoria had meant that “transport projects are either dreamt up or changed at a whim without a proper planning process”.

This ended up delaying progress and disguising the real issues the state faced, he said.

“Instead of demonstrable studies that show that projects are the solution to a problem, the problem is never really looked at in the first place in all seriousness,” Mr McDougall said. “We’ve thrown away the planning system.”

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