Stop playing and start planning for Victoria

A magisterial editorial from The Age, the Australian Labor Party​ and Liberal Party of Australia​ et al, must stop drinking the rent seeker kool-aid when it comes to supporting megaprojects and instead build a real vision for Australian cities & transport.

The Age Editorial: Stop playing and start planning for Victoria (11 January 2016)

Victoria’s transport infrastructure requires a thorough, comprehensive plan that takes into account present and future needs.

For many years this newspaper has stood in support of projects that could remedy Melbourne’s debilitating – and ever worsening – traffic problems.

In 2013 we commented on the conflict of ideologies between then prime minister Julia Gillard and her opposing leader Tony Abbott, over whether the federal government should contribute to Ms Gillard’s favoured Melbourne Metro rail plan, of which we said it was “worthwhile for all the right reasons”, or Mr Abbott’s preferred concept, an east-west link road-building project (written about in lower-case as a notion, rather than a bona fide entity).

Throughout the East West Link’s (as it was to become) dramatic history, we welcomed it as a way to get the traffic moving on our main roads, if it was properly costed and sensibly designed. In May 2013, observing the acrimonious – and ever worsening – intransigence between the two major political parties, we told readers: “Our state needs a generational transformation in its public transport and road networks, not a bit-by-bit remake of the existing system. The east-west link is to be welcomed, but it is only one stage of a single project. It would be a shame if the enthusiasm for road solutions is not extended to rail, tram and bus networks.”

Last week The Age reported that the Andrews government had begun work on several jobs to remove level crossings where road and rail services intersect, thus improving the lot of commuters and making our city a safer place in which to travel. We also reported on the government’s announcements regarding the now ubiquitous Melbourne Metro rail scheme, and the multibillion-dollar Transurban Western Distributor.

This latter conception is especially noteworthy as it has been promoted as a fix for a difficult transport problem in Melbourne’s west. But we also see that while it may deliver some benefits, it will also significantly worsen traffic in other areas of the system.

Thus it goes: our leaders seem to be committed to the idea that these various projects exist as mere media releases intended to give them a talking point in the news stream and a wedge to use against their opponents. As each project, or piece of a project, is announced, contradictory evidence is supplied that pokes holes in the plan. Partisan argy-bargy ensues, patches are applied, new holes discovered and the process begins anew. Little of substance is achieved.

With the Andrews government’s wide-ranging list of road and rail projects, even where work has commenced, adequate documentation is absent. How much will the Western Distributor cost? Is there a sensible business case for it? Where is the money coming from? These are the kinds of answers to questions that were missing from Denis Napthine’s East West Link scheme, and their lack eventually gave Mr Andrews all the ammunition he needed to win government. Now he appears to making many of the same mistakes.

We have said many times over the years, Victoria has massive problems with its road and rail infrastructure. Fixing them requires a thorough, comprehensive plan that takes into account present and future needs. The demands of disparate stakeholders must be weighed, and either accommodated or dismissed.

It is a massive job, but a necessary one. It is incumbent on government – federal and state, in power and in opposition – to facilitate such a plan. It must be cognisant of financial realities. It must be formulated in a transparent process. There is no room for ideologies or political shibboleths, to be trumpeted by the party in power, only to be dumped by the next. It cannot be done in a piecemeal manner. But it must be done, for the good of this state