At the Yarra Campaign for Action on Public Transport (Ycat) recent Annual Campaign Meeting the Doncaster Rail Campaign was unanimously endorsed as Ycat’s priority for 2012 – 2013.
This commits Ycat to actively campaign for the core option in the Doncaster Rail Study, which is rapid transit rail down the meridian strip on the Eastern Freeway, and oppose the State Government’s current plans for an East – West Toll Road Link and Tunnel. Our campaign objective is to ensure that the federal Department of Infrastructure funds the Doncaster Rail Link down the Eastern Freeway and not the state government’s preferred option for an East – West Toll Road and Tunnel Link.
We will act, in collaboration, with member groups, transport and environmental groups and the community from East to West. As members of the Steering Committee for the City of Yarra’s Transport Advocacy Campaign we will actively campaign with, as part of and in collaboration with the City of Yarra’s Campaign.
There are two other recent developments, which need to be noted and monitored. Firstly, the State Government has flagged that the tunnel may be replaced with “flyovers” on Alexandra Parade as a more cost effective option. These would be similar to those already built in the east of Melbourne. This will effectively be an “aerial freeway” probably over the existing road with several off-ramps to take cars directly into central Melbourne. This option is strongly supported by prospective PPPs as the best option as they consider it will make the toll road more financially viable. The exact location of these off ramps is not yet know.
Secondly, during the Doncaster Rail Study consultations the possibility of the Rapid Transit Buses on the Eastern Freeway, as opposed to rail, was raised and if adopted this will strengthen the case for an East – West Toll Road. The possibility of a combined Road and Rail tunnel on Alexandra Parade was also flagged.
The Doncaster Rail Study consultations and comment period have now concluded and the final report is now due out at the end of August 2012. Unfortunately, it is possible or even probable that the release of the report will be further delayed for political reasons.
Geotechnical drilling has already commenced on Alexandra Parade, as extensive drilling is needed to ascertain the suitability of rock conditions for the construction of a tunnel – an indication of the current government’s preference for the road project.
For the community this is the beginning of a long, demanding and difficult fight for Doncaster Rail. It is clear that the Government intends to proceed with the building of a case for the East-West Road Link and Tunnel for funding by Infrastructure Australia and PPPs possibly starting in 2014 to coincide with the completion of current road infrastructure projects in Melbourne.
The drilling is the first stage of a $15 million feasibility study, approved in the state budget, to connect the Eastern Freeway to City Link and City Link to Port Melbourne and then Port Melbourne to the Western Ring Road. The nature of this linkage indicates that this road is planned primarily for freight transport between Port Melbourne and the new port at Hastings and not to relieve computer congestion and access as claimed by the state government.
Current research is clear — new roads do not relieve congestion. If we build roads cars will come! Research also tells us that commuters, do want, fast and efficient public transport, look to the success of the Mandurah Rail in Perth, and that hard rail is the preferred commuter option for Doncaster Rail. Rail carries more people more efficiently is more environmentally friendly and is more cost effective than building Toll Roads and Tunnels. Research also shows that there is no commuter demand for an East-West Road Link, as the majority of commuters exist the Eastern freeway at Hoddle Street to either travel south or into the city.
In contrast to rail a tunnel with its emission stacks, and or an elevated freeway or flyovers is not environmentally, socially or cultural friendly. Roads and tunnels increase pollution and health risks, over-shadow houses and create damp, dark underpasses for cars and pedestrians were nothing can grow.
Both options will carve a wide swerve, disconnecting and dislocating local communities and involve significant neighborhood trauma associated with the acquisition of residential properties, Neighborhood Houses and Learning Centres, Schools, Churches and the loss of public open space and recreation facilities.
Ycat and affiliated residential, environmental and local residents, transport action groups, Yarra City Council and the East -West community, as a distinct entity, is again facing an array of powerful transport lobby groups, toll road interests, developers and unions and a state government with election funding favours to return.
An elevated Toll Road with city off ramps or a combined road and rail link and/or a combined road and rail tunnel is very scary and will be very destructive to the future livability of Melbourne’s inner city, adjacent suburbs and the numerous communities who live and work in the area.
This is a battle for the hearts and minds of the community and we already have that in spades. We are facing an entrenched road infrastructure government, powerful developers, road and transport lobby groups and Unions – though it is possible that the unions may come to realise that there is as much work in rail construction as in roads.
We remain confident and we will fight for Doncaster Rail and oppose the East-West Toll Road and Tunnel. We can win and with a federal election due in eighteen months this is a very good time to fight for Infrastructure Australia Funding for the Doncaster Rail.
It is important to remember that this is a fight for the future of Melbourne – our city and we have no other option.
Freda Watkin, Ycat