The East West Link is the Napthine government’s megaproject for Victoria. Connecting the Eastern Freeway with City Link, it will carve up the inner north with 18km of tunnel, toll road and a “spaghetti junction” of ramps.
Ninety-six homes are to be acquired compulsorily and bulldozed. Hundreds more will be subject to the damage, noise and pollution that a freeway will bring.
Royal Park – 170 hectares of bushland, newly created wetlands and recreational areas – will be carved up. Julianne Bell, secretary of Protectors of Public Lands, has labelled the project “the final nail in the coffin” for the park. Large swathes will be lost forever. Even the Melbourne Zoo will be negatively impacted.
The price tag? $8 billion and counting. Tim Colebatch, economics editor for the Age, says that a figure of $15b would be “in the right footy ground”.
The project is based on a cynical political calculation: Napthine thinks getting the road lobby onside and appearing to be the champion of the outer suburban motorist will reap dividends at the ballot box. But this project will do next to nothing for most commuters from the eastern suburbs.
Traffic flow surveys of the Eastern Freeway reveal that only about 20 percent of traffic heads west. The destination for the overwhelming majority is the city for work and access to services. What’s more, we know that construction of new roads only leads to increased car use and ultimately greater traffic congestion, especially in the absence of public transport alternatives.
A key factor driving Napthine’s tunnel vision is vested corporate interests. He’s declared in policy documents that he wants Victoria to be known as the “freight state”. This is a policy for the trucking industry.
A community campaign against the tunnel is growing. We know that the billions dedicated to this project will crowd out funding for essential public services like education and health care – services that are already stretched to their limits – not to mention the much needed improvement and extension of our public transport system.
Except for the City Loop, there has been no major expansion of Melbourne’s rail network since the 1930s. It’s 83 years since a new urban rail line was built. For a fraction of the cost of the East West Link we could build the Doncaster rail line, which would take an estimated 800 cars off the roads per train. That’s 3.7km of a single lane of bumper to bumper traffic. We could also begin the construction of the Metro rail tunnel, Rowville and airport rail links.
The Liberals actually promised the Doncaster line in the last state election. They lied. That’s not surprising given the ideological hostility of the Liberal Party to funding public transport; for them it’s a slippery slope to communism.
The public outcry against the tunnel is building fast. Napthine hopes he’ll be able to steam roll over us and sign the contracts before the state election. We have fought the expansion of freeways and toll roads for decades. It’s not a story of victories, though we’ve wrenched some concessions along the way.
But this time, there is a possibility that we can stop this dog of a project. We sure as hell aren’t going to give up easily.