This report examines our deep concerns with planning and governance for the proposed West Gate Tunnel Project (WGTP) and, by extension, with the wider context for transport planning in Victoria. We are a group of transport and urban planning academics based at RMIT University, the University of Melbourne, and other globally respected institutions. All authors of this report have extensive expertise in Victorian transport and land use planning as well as knowledge of international transport planning trends and trajectories. We have written this report to examine serious questions specific to the WGTP, but these questions can also be asked of other Victorian projects including the North East Link, and further afield with Westconnex in Sydney. These projects threaten to lock-in the serious problems of car dependency for another generation and their massive budgets will severely limit options available to governments to create better public transport, and to meet demands for investment in health, education and regional development.
This report adds to previous work in Tunnel Vision Or World Class Public Transport? How Cancelling The East West Link Can Fund Better Transport Alternatives For Melbourne? led by Professor Jago Dodson (2014). This report was critical of the East West Link, while offering alternative solutions. We argue that the WGTP should be scaled back to the original West Gate Distributor truck road, promised at the 2014 state election. Further, better long-term solutions to transport problems in the West – and across Melbourne and Victoria – need to be identified through a proper integrated Transport Plan as required by the Victorian Transport Integration Act.
We applaud the Andrews government for its decision to cancel the East West Link (EWL). The Victorian Auditor General confirmed that the business case for the EWL was extremely weak and highly compromised (Victorian Auditor-General, 2015), such that proceeding with its construction would have led to induced demand further reinforcing Melbourne’s dependency on the car, which we argued in our 2014 report (Dodson et al, 2014). In place of the EWL, the government’s key 2014 election platform Project 10,000 incorporated a suite of transport projects of great benefit to Melbourne: the removal of 50 level crossings at the fastest rate in Victoria’s history, the 9km Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel with five new city stations and enhanced capacity for the rail network, and the West Gate Distributor (WGD), a $500 million project designed to remove trucks from inner west streets with a direct route between the Port and the West Gate Freeway (Australian Labor Party, 2014).
While we acknowledge the congestion issues on the West Gate Bridge, international and local evidence overwhelmingly shows that building new or expanded roads are only ever short-term solutions. The purported travel time savings and reductions in congestion will not materialise because of induced demand, which attracts users to new road capacity and away from other modes, and we will very soon be stuck in traffic once more. Instead what is needed in an increasingly automobile-saturated city are significant and continuous improvements to public transport integration that draws travellers away from cars - both in Melbourne’s west, and across the entire metropolitan area. The WGTP thus constitutes an expensive strategic mistake.