Lack of transport planning dominates the day

By Andrew Herington

The failure of the Napthine Government to have updated the 2008 Victorian Transport Plan was the repeated theme of the six submissions today from transport groups.

The Transport Integration Act 2009 applies to the East West Link project but transport groups say the Act’s objectives and decision making principles have been ignored in the project’s comprehensive impact statement.  Under section 63 of this Act the Minister is required to issue a transport plan and make decisions adhering to the priorities in that plan.

However, no new transport plan has been adopted since the original 2008 plan. The 2008 plan reflected Eddington’s recommendations, which were that the Melbourne Metro and the WestLink project (Sunshine to Footscray road link) should have priority.

As Councillor Melican, chair of the Metropolitan Transport Forum put it, “currently, if we change government, we change projects”. He said there is not enough transport planning that outlasts government cycles or agreement on priorities.

Lack of planning is evident in the way the East West Link project leap-frogged other projects (including the Melbourne Metro and Westlink) and previous advice (from Eddington and others). Before the last election, the Coalition promised several rail projects – all of which have since been shelved (rail lines to Rowville, Doncaster, Melbourne Airport, Avalon, a station at Southland and passenger services from Geelong to Bendigo).

The East West Link was given priority when Dennis Napthine became Premier. As several submitters have said emphatically, the only urgency is the rush to sign up a contract before the election.

The Victorian Government had not counted on public opinion being so strongly in favour of spending on public transport rather than roads. Two major opinion polls have shown very strong attitudes across normal political lines against the East West Link.

As the PTUA pointed out, the recent blitz of public transport promises, such as the free trams announcement have sought to rebalance the agenda and restore the Coalition’s standing in the polls. Notably, Liberal party leaflets at rail stations have stopped making reference to the East West Link as part of the strategy.

The $2 billion commitment to the removal of level crossings on the Dandenong and related measures to increase capacity makes this a genuinely bipartisan priority which transport experts agree is the highest priority for Melbourne’s overcrowded rail network (assuming the commencement of the Regional Rail Line in 2015 will enable more trains to fix the crowding on the Werribee and Sunbury lines).

These arguments are well known to the various groups campaigning for environmentally sustainable transport policies. Recognising the limitations on the assessment committee’s planning decision, the Public Transport Users Association set out a series of specific alternative projects that at the very least, should be required to accompany any new road. These included:

  • Protection of the Doncaster rail easement enabling it to proceed on the existing easement
  • Construction of a new Bus interchange at Victoria Park station
  • A larger investment in DART Buses and bus lanes into the city than intended by the LMA plan
  • Earlier implementation of the tram priority measures which are not dependent on the East West Link.

More than a few submissions have taken a similar two-level approach to what is being put to the committee setting out their overall objection to the project and its massive cost, but also making specific suggestions around performance requirements: “if you are going to build it, this is what you should change”.

For example, the Essendon Community Gardens group are primarily concerned with maintaining their garden or having it replaced somewhere that will not be affected by construction activity and traffic. Yet they started the submission by pointedly making their opposition to the freeway being built at all – affirmed by a recent vote of the group.

As the next five days of individual and group submissions progress this is a dual message that is likely to be frequently heard.

Andrew Herington was a former adviser to the Bracks and Brumby governments.

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