Transurban to use boost in toll revenue to widen parts of CityLink, ease Bolte Bridge bottleneck

The Age: Transurban to use boost in toll revenue to widen parts of CityLink, ease Bolte Bridge bottleneck. April 29, 2014. Adam Carey and Richard Willingham

CityLink operator Transurban will use a huge boost in toll revenue to pay for an $850 million widening of the toll road between Essendon Airport and the West Gate Freeway, including fixing the notorious traffic bottleneck on the Bolte Bridge.

But the narrowest section of the Tullamarine Freeway, where the road shrinks to two lanes in each direction between Melbourne Airport and the Western Ring Road, will not be expanded until the Napthine government secures significant funding from the Commonwealth.

Business and motoring groups urged the state government to commit to widening the northern end of the Tullamarine Freeway as soon as possible, warning of worsening congestion from increasing airport and commuter traffic.

Meanwhile, a confidential report commissioned by the Department of Transport has found public transport must be expanded to cater for 30 per cent of all trips to Melbourne Airport within 20 years to stop the freeway from clogging.

The 2012 report to government by consultancy firm Sinclair Knight Merz is a 50-year strategy for landside access to the airport and was obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws.

With the airport predicted to attract 60 million visitors a year in 20 years’ time, the report concludes that ”a substantial mode shift towards [public transport] will be required … to keep traffic volumes and congestion at manageable levels on the surrounding roads”.

In all, public transport to and from the airport must be able to cater for 70,000 people a day, the strategy found, a quadrupling of volumes currently using the SkyBus and public bus network.

Premier Denis Napthine said the widening of the toll road would save motorists driving between the city and the airport up to 16 minutes at the completion of the project, which will boost CityLink’s capacity by 30 per cent.

”Road congestion costs Victoria, in terms of lost time and productivity, and this project will cut travel times by up to 16 minutes per trip during peak periods between Melbourne Airport and the West Gate Freeway,” he said.

The two-year project will begin next year, with a freeze on car toll increases to offset the impact of construction.

To fund the project there will be an extra year of tolls on CityLink, with a one-year extension of the CityLink Concession Deed for Transurban, taking its operation of the road to 2035.

Tolls on heavy vehicles will rise to three times the rate for cars and light vehicles. Transurban also expects the East West Link to direct more traffic onto its toll road upon opening in 2019, further increasing its revenue.

The project, an unsolicited proposal from Transurban, will add extra lanes covering 33 kilometres between the Bolte Bridge and Tullamarine Freeway north of English Street. There will also be extra lanes on the Bolte Bridge.

The announcement was welcomed by influential groups, including the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the RACV, and by the operators of Melbourne Airport. But all three stressed the necessity of also widening the Tullamarine Freeway between the airport and the ring road.

”There is clearly inadequate capacity on the section from Essendon Airport out to Melbourne Airport, with two lanes each way. We’ve long advocated for the widening of that to three lanes each way,” the RACV’s Brian Negus said.

The Napthine government estimated widening the road would cost about $250 million, which means the project will need to be assessed by federal advisory authority Infrastructure Australia.

”At the cost that’s been quoted, it’s certainly achievable,” Mr Negus said.

Richard Clancy, executive director of VECCI, said Labor had already committed to widening the northern end of the freeway ”and, ideally, you’d have both projects completed together”.

Industry group the Tourism and Transport Forum chief Ken Morrison said that ”while the widening project will provide relief for motorists, increased public transport patronage is the ultimate solution for congestion”.

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