Toll road continues to divide

Photo source: Canva
As Greens MPs attempt to revoke planning permission for the West Gate Tunnel for a second time, a local resident claims the state government is “buying out” local councils. Jake Stevens reports.















Victorian Greens MPs will attempt to revoke planning permission for Transurban’s $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel for a second time, as questions are raised over the project’s planning process.

The project was re-gazetted in the state’s Legislative Council after initial planning approvals were revoked in March following opposition from the Greens, Liberal and National MPs.

Premier Daniel Andrews has described the Tunnel as a “fantastic project” that will “get those trucks out of the inner west”.

But Huong Truong, MLC for Western Metropolitan Region, said the Andrews government is acting “without any regard” for local residents.

The announcement comes after fellow Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik  recently challenged the government’s in a Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing over its approach to the Tunnel’s planning.

Under section 63 of the Transport Integration Act, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources is expected to outline and update a ‘Victorian Transport Plan’.

At the hearing, Mr Andrews refused to answer questions on the existence of such a plan, referring questions to Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan.

The Standard sought comment from both Ms Allen and Transport for Victoria but received no response.

Rosa McKenna, secretary of the Spotswood South Kingsville Residents’ Group, said “there is no plan,” and the state’s planning processes have been “abused”.

“The road itself has not been planned in a way that actually looks at how it works, either in relation to other traffic management in the area, nor with public transport offerings,” Ms McKenna said.

In an open letter, four inner west community groups have condemned the West Gate Tunnel as “the result of a breakdown in sound planning policy”.

“We urge all political parties to cease using transport projects as a political football, to cherry pick projects and for childish point scoring,” the letter reads.

Ms McKenna has accused Transurban and the state government of ‘buying out’ local councils and community groups, through the financing of works to upgrade sporting facilities and achieve municipal masterplans.

This includes $5 million announced by the state government in March for sports facilities in the City of Hobsons Bay, and “a package of local improvements” to the tune of $6 million for the Maribyrnong City Council.

Coincidentally, Ms McKenna says that “nobody” within the Maribyrnong City Council will “speak out” against the Tunnel.
Of the 6000 jobs expected to be created by the project, only 400 will come from the western suburbs – a move described as “tokenistic” by Ms McKenna. “Clearly, the west doesn’t matter,” she said.

Since Transurban’s original proposal was announced in September 2015 – although originally pitched to Labor when in opposition before the 2014 state election – the nature of the project has changed substantially.

Due for completion in 2022, the project will now link the West Gate Freeway at South Kingsville to Yarraville, with an elevated roadway providing access to the Port of Melbourne, Wurundjeri Way and CityLink.

Ramps will also provide access to the Port of Melbourne from Spotswood and Yarraville for trucks carrying placard goods, with 1600 trucks estimated to avoid the two tunnels each day.

In a bid to prevent ‘rat running’ new truck bans will be enforced in both Spotswood and Yarraville, but Ms McKenna believes they won’t be effective if they aren’t policed.

“If you want to incentivise trucks to use the freeway, then you don’t put tolls on it,” she said, adding that many trucks will be exempt from the bans in order to access local container yards.

In its deal with the state government, Transurban is set to receive a 10-12 year extension to its existing toll concessions on the CityLink route which were due to expire in 2035.

“We’ve got the Yarraville bypass and the tollway link to Transurban – that’s what this is,” Ms McKenna said.

Without improvements to public transport, she believes the project will “condemn” western suburbs residents to a life of car dependency and “toll compliance”.

Ms McKenna’s cynicism is shared by Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik.

“Major cities around the world are not building roads that end in the middle of the city,” she said.

Ms McKenna said that the findings outlined in Sir Rod Eddington’s 2008 report would be “far more appropriate” in removing trucks from roads in the western suburbs.

The three other inner west community groups – Don’t Destroy Millers Road, the Brooklyn Residents Action Group, and the Hobson’s Bay Residents’ Association agree.

“The West Gate Tunnel Project is not part of the vision that local residents have of Melbourne’s west as it becomes the economic engine room of the state.”