Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Lies and deception: The East West Tunnel won't reduce congestion

When Denis Napthine took over from Ted Baillieu as Premier of Victoria in March 2013 he took charge of government that many thought had lost its way.

Napthine set about creating a new "firm leadership" persona to distance himself from his predecessor.  Undoubtedly he was also influenced by Liberal Party strategists working on the campaign for the Liberal-National coalition government to be re-elected in 2014.

Unfortunately, after policy announcements during the 2012 Victorian election campaign about providing better public transport, including studies for Doncaster and Melbourne Airport railway lines, Denis Napthine recommitted the government to building the "East West Link" in two stages.

Source: Prof Graham Currie (PDF)

Stage 1 (committed)
  • Part 1: a 4 to 6 km road tunnel to connect the Eastern Freeway in Collingwood to the City Link Tollway in Parkville ($6 to $8 billion)
  • Part 2. a connection south to Footscray Road and the Port of Melbourne
Stage 2 (2014 election pledge)
  • Connection to Western Metropolitan Ring Rd
The total cost of both stages is estimated at $15 to $17 billion.

The reasons provided by the Napthine Government for the east west tunnel are that it will:
  • Cut congestion
  • Slash travel times
  • Drive growth
  • Create jobs

Unfortunately, the first two of these are falsehoods and the second two are highly questionable.

1. Cutting congestion

Transport studies have shown that 95% of traffic travelling in on the Eastern Freeway is destined to a location other than along the route of the proposed tunnel.  This traffic is destined to the Melbourne CBD or to the south of Melbourne.  Much of this traffic exits onto Hoddle Street which turns into Punt Road.  This route is frequently gridlocked by very heavy traffic, which also impedes the passage of public transport buses.

Source: Prof Graham Currie (PDF)

The Napthine Government is advertising their East West Link on billboards positioned along Punt Road and stating that congestion will be reduced and car commuter travel times will decrease.

While the Trains Not Tollroads campaign also has billboards along Punt Road challenging these claims.

It is quite clear that the proposed East West Tunnel would do nothing to reduce congestion on Hoddle Street, Punt Road, Nicholson Street, Brunswick Street and other inner Melbourne car commuter routes.

2. Reducing travel times

"Reduced travel time" is the main benefit that Napthine Government claims the East West Tunnell will provide.  However, as the vast majority of traffic coming in on the Eastern Freeway will still have to queue to get out tunnel exits onto inner Melbourne car commuter routes, cars will bring tunnel traffic (3 lanes each way) to a stand still.  The long "tailback" of cars on the Eastern Freeway will still occur.

Building more road infrastructure, and not providing fast and effective public transport options, will encourage more people to commute in their cars.  The minor increase in road capacity provided by the East West tunnel will be simply swamped by additional car users.  There is clear evidence of this on the Monash Tollway and City Link tunnels under the Yarra River.  These are brought to a standstill nearly every morning by heavy commuter traffic.

The proposed East West Tunnel will do nothing to reduce travel times for people driving in along the Eastern Freeway.  

3. Driving growth

A lot of public money will be spent on the East West Road Tunnel/Link if it proceeds.  The assumption that "economic growth will result" is predicated on the project actually reducing congestion and improving transport of people and goods.  

As congestion won't reduce and transport times won't improve, the project won't drive growth.

Economic growth resulting from spending the money would be equivalent if it were spent on rail projects such as the Doncaster rail line.

4. Creating jobs

This is a furphy. 

The project would create jobs during design and construction, but no more jobs than building new railway lines would create.

Other impacts
Other impacts that the East West Link project will have include:
  • Rat running: A toll road inevitably results in toll avoidance which will lead to rat-running in local suburbs including Collingwood, Fitzroy, Parkville, Flemington, Ascot Vale and Moonee Ponds.
  • Connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists will be seriously impeded by the environment created by flyovers, and increased number of traffic lanes at Hoddle St and Flemington Road.
  • Liveability: The increased space and priority devoted in this project to motor vehicle traffic is contrary to sustainable transport practices and the direction of most modern cities across the world including Los Angeles, Washingon D.C. and Naples. A liveable city prioritises investment in public transport, not tollways in the middle of the city.
  • Impacts on residences close to proposed flyovers and new freeway routes, with greatly reduced amenity and without compensation have not been addressed.
  • Historic shot tower: The view and prominence of the historic shot tower on Alexandra Parade will be impeded by a flyover.
  • Increased noise: Adding two lanes to the existing Eastern Freeway from Hoddle Street to Tram Road will increase traffic and associated noise.
  • Royal Park degradation: The large scale removal of mature trees and the removal of wetlands and open space in Park Royal are unacceptable in terms of native vegetation, habitat and biodiversity loss. The loss of sports grounds and recreational space will have a negative impact on community health and well being.
  • The visual impact of widened roads, tunnel exits and flyovers on Park Royal is unacceptable.
  • Climate change. The toll road will encourage increased car use and therefore increase pollution and contribute to global warming.

Why the Napthine Government is so committed to the East West Tunnel

With no real benefits, massive expenditure and no confirmed "business case" I speculate on the motives of the Napthine Government.

The project, if it proceeds, will also have huge negative impacts on Melbourne, including:
  • Destruction of large parts of Royal Park
  • Demolition of a lot of residential housing
  • Increased traffic flows on already busy inner Melbourne transit roads
  • Increased greenhouse gas emissions through increased use of motor vehicles for commuter trips
  • Increased requirements for parking throughout Melbourne's inner suburbs and CBD
I think the project has been promoted to and targeted to people who already commute by car from Melbourne's outer eastern and south eastern suburbs, including Franskton and beyond.  There are several marginal seats in this area.  If the Napthine Government can convince enough people that there transit times will reduce (even though they won't) then they think have an election winner.

The people who live in inner Melbourne suburbs and electorates such as Northcote, Richmond, Melbourne and Brunswick have been written off by the Napthine Government as they live in Labor-Green seats that the Liberals will not win.  Resident's lifestyles, life quality and air quality will be just collateral damage to the Napthine government.

One possible reason that the "business case" for the proposed East West Tunnel has not been released is that it would not withstand scrutiny.

The Napthine government is placing full page advertisements in newspapers to "sell the benefits" of the East West tunnel.  Unfortunately, they are just pedaling lies.

Building a road tunnel that will become an $8 billion underground car park is a very expensive election stunt.


The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office reported recently that in Victoria there is:
  • Longstanding failure to deliver infrastructure and services needed in growth areas
  • No clear plan for managing traffic congestion and travel demand
  • Weak capability to manage public transport growth and performance
  • Total cost of all infrastructure needed in greenfields over next 30 years is $36 billion
Clearly, there is a need to improve planning and decision-making for the delivery of improved public transport infrastructure and services 

If new railways were built road traffic would reduce. Many people would "mode shift" from road to rail. One train line can carry the same amount of people as 20 lanes of roads.  This would reduce congestion and improve travel times for those who still choose to commute in their cars.

Safe cycle paths separated from cars would encourage more people to "mode shift" from cars to bicycles for commuting.

A congestion tax levied on people commuting in cars to inner Melbourne and the CBD would reduce traffic and ease congestion.  This would also free up road space for freight transport that cannot be conveyed by rail.

A referendum on the East West Tunnel vs Doncaster Rail would allow Victorians to vote on what they think the best project is.  That would be true democracy.  

What can you do? 

Consider writing a letter to your local state Members of Parliament (upper and lower houses), the Premier Dennis Napthine and Transport Minister Terry Mulder.

You can also make a submission to the East West Link Comprehensive Impact Statement.

Will sanity prevail?

The Labor government notionally opposes the East West Tunnel, but will most likely continue with the project if they win the next state election.

Victorian politicians have demonstrated that they are incapable of making appropriate, well consider decisions on providing transport infrastructure.  We need a mechanism to separate these major decisions from political interference and election campaigning.

Efficient and sustainable transport solutions will only occur if enough people apply political pressure to both the Liberal/National and Labor political parties.



Ben Courtice said...

I think another, possibly dominant reason for the tunnel is providing a fast freight route for trucks travelling between the docks and the eastern corridor. It's something that should also be done by rail.

Anonymous said...

stage 1 is from collingwood to the port (this is broken up into 2 sections) and stage 2 is from footscray to the western ring rd. Both these stages combine to a sum of $16 billion. Stage 1 is being proposed not stage 2. If the liberal government gets elected again then they will also proceed with stage 2.

Peter Campbell said...

Ben, I agree that road freight and the Port linkage is a driver for the project. However, when the tunnel is blocked by traffic the road freight will be too. It should be on rail as a first preference.

Anon, thanks for the clarification on Stages 1 & 2, the Linking Melbourne Authority information is a bit confusing. I will update the post.