The Age: Libs ramp up priority for freeway (November 17, 2011)
Reid Sexton and Clay Lucas.
A controversial freeway through inner Melbourne and a new underground rail line have again topped the state’s wish list for funding from Canberra, with the Baillieu government saying it wants to proceed with a series of major transport projects first proposed by Labor.
The government today will unveil its submission to the federal government’s advisory body Infrastructure Australia. It marks the first release of the Coalition’s transport proposals since coming to office last November.
However, the submission does not say when any of the projects detailed would be built, or what they would ultimately cost. Premier Ted Baillieu said yesterday he did not want to make these predictions until more planning had been done.
The government has backed an 18-kilometre ”inner urban freeway” that would link the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill to the Western Ring Road in Sunshine. The freeway would travel via CityLink and the Port of Melbourne. It is based on a plan put forward by Sir Rod Eddington in 2008 in a report for the Brumby government. Sir Rod is now chairman of Infrastructure Australia.
This freeway plan was partially adopted by Mr Brumby’s government later in 2008, when it announced plans for WestLink, a $2.5 billion tunnel linking the inner west to the port.
Public transport advocates attacked the road tunnel plan, which has been in limbo since Labor’s defeat last year, saying it would only add to road congestion.
Federal Greens MP Adam Bandt vowed to fight ”tooth and nail” to stop the freeway gaining money from Canberra. State Labor MP Richard Wynne – whose electorate the freeway would slice through – also attacked the idea. ”When Eddington first looked at this freeway, it was neither economically or environmentally sustainable. It’s the same today,” he said.
But the government’s submission to Canberra argues booming traffic on the West Gate Bridge and Hoddle Street means the project is now justified. It has requested $30 million to fund a two-year planning study. ”This is a once-in-a-generation project that would transform the way people move around Melbourne,” Mr Baillieu said.
The government’s submission says the private sector may help fund construction of the freeway, raising the possibility it may be a toll road.
The submission also puts a new rail tunnel under inner Melbourne back on the agenda. Labor’s 2008 blueprint detailed a plan for a 17-kilometre track from Footscray to Caulfield via Parkville, with its first stage to cost $4.5 billion. Its future was put in doubt after the election but the Baillieu government is now seeking a further $130 million for pre-construction work. While the new proposal follows much the same route as Labor’s plan, it will stretch only nine kilometres. Other requests include $120 million to expand the Port of Hastings in preparation for when the Port of Melbourne reaches capacity, and $10 million for a new truck-to-rail freight interchange in Truganina. In all, the government has requested $640 million from Canberra.
Transport expert Paul Mees, from RMIT, said the submission was the government’s attempt to create the illusion it had a plan to cope with Melbourne’s transport issues. ”If I was the federal government I would tell them to go away, develop a transport plan first, and then ask for money. They are asking Canberra to do their job for them.”
Labor’s public transport spokeswoman, Fiona Richardson, said Mr Baillieu’s party had been ”bitter critics” in opposition of government proposals for new rail lines, but had now adopted Labor’s ideas.
”It begs the question: where does this leave the Liberals’ plans for Doncaster, Tullamarine and Rowville rail links?” she said.