By Andrew Herington

The focus shifted today to the inner northern suburbs with expert witnesses appearing for the Moonee Valley City Council tackling traffic and noise impacts.

Louise Hicks for the Council began by tabling a huge folder of detailed policies covering planning, transport, environment, open space and other issues. Quoting liberally from the documents she showed the extent to which the freeway proposal clashes with many of the strategies to Council has put in place to improve the quality of life for residents.

An interesting case was the fact that the recent panel consideration of the development at the Mooney Valley Racecourse had heard the racecourse development was possible because traffic on Ormond Rd was not expected to grow – yet now it is to become a key access route to the East West Link.

She also tabled a substantial list of open space upgrades and path improvements along the Moonee Ponds Creek, totalling several million dollars which are priorities for mitigating the impacts the freeway would have.

No-one has been able to suggest where replacement open space will come from. A map was tabled showing the large area required to relocate the children’s playground at Debney’s Park. The committee showed some interest in this following Rose Iser’s presentation on Wednesday.

Moonee Valley’s first witness, Andrew O’Brien, took a critical look at the actual design of the East West Link ramps to the north and south and found both wanting from a traffic performance and safety viewpoint.  A number of serious design shortcomings were highlighted. He recommended a series of changes to significantly reduce the impact of the freeway on the creek, adjacent homes and parkland.

A difference has emerged between the councils as the Moonee Valley argument against the Ormond Rd off ramp was framed essentially as an argument dependent on building the Elliot Avenue interchange which Melbourne (and most community groups) oppose.

The Eddington report argued there should be no inner-city off-ramps for the East West Link and that designing a new tunnel to serve the inner-city would ultimately defeat its purpose of improving cross town transport movements.

The LMA has tried to creep around this policy by insisting on the ramps in Royal Park – suggesting they give access to Racecourse Rd and point west – when in fact they are more likely to provide for traffic wanting to turn back along Macarthur Rd and Flemington Rd to access Parkville, the university, hospitals, zoo and the northern CBD. This comes at the expense of the damage to Royal Park.

The very late addition to the project of an off-ramp at Ormond Rd has never been satisfactorily explained. The fact there is no equivalent on-ramp is even more peculiar – and seemingly unprecedented in Melbourne.

It creates asymmetric traffic flows as the absence of an Ormond Rd on-ramp means all the east bound traffic has to go down Mt Alexander Rd and Elliot Avenue whereas westbound traffic uses Citylink and Ormond Rd.

Mr O’Brien proposed a different model for the Part B viaduct – essentially doing away with Part B and redeveloping the existing viaduct with parallel sections (similar to the way the Westgate freeway was widened).

This would fix a number of the constraints that lead to the nastier impacts of the current design and make it possible to give motorists a choice of where they want to go (as happens at the Montague interchange).

This creates a problem as Citylink is currently run by Transurban who are not bidding for the East West Link. Hence the option of operating a combined facility would require successful commercial negotiations.

As the hearings progress it is increasingly clear there are design alternatives – they just haven’t been considered.

Noise expert, Robin Brown, took the assessment committee through the impacts on the high rise flats which are as close as 37 metres from the proposed freeway viaduct. The committee has decided to listen to the Monash freeway for themselves to assess the various interpretations of sound levels.

The elephant in the room – trumpeting loudly in the corner – is that the LMA want the Part B viaduct and the Hoddle St bridge treated as existing roads (for which the standard is 68 dB) rather than new roads (for which it is 63dB).

There has been debate about why there is no noise standard for open space, but Mr Brown made the interesting point that such a standard has now been developed for rail projects and should be adapted for this project to set a precedent.

The committee also flexed its muscles today expressing some annoyance at the growing list of overdue responses from the LMA to questions that have been asked. Significantly, they now want a detailed account of the timetable for the tender process and the timing of the choice of the final design in relation to the timing of the committee’s report. The LMA was given a fresh round of homework to do with an explicit analysis of the internal contradictions in the various traffic figures they have submitted so far.

Their report card appeared to be stamped ‘could do better’.

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