No tolled road tunnel plan!

Local residents, environmentalists and public transport supporters gathered at Debney Park on May 25 to voice their opposition to a proposed tolled east-west road tunnel and a large housing tower development in the local area.

Debney Park, adjacent to large housing commission flats in multicultural and densely populated Flemington, has large tracts of land earmarked for road extension under the controversial road tunnel plan. The park is used extensively by many ethnic groups for a range of recreational activities.

The protest, organised by the Mt Alexander Road Campaign Group (MARCG) and Royal Park Protection Group (RPPG), was endorsed by Protectors of Public Lands Victoria, a coalition involving a broad range of environment, heritage and community groups.

Progressive comedian and community activist Rod Quantock hosted the 300-strong rally. Paul Mees, outspoken public transport advocate and academic, told the crowd that even the most hard-nosed economic rationalist would be opposed to the $18 billion transport plan proposed in the East West Link Needs Assessment (EWLNA) report, which was released last month.

One of its main proposals was a highly controversial 17 kilometre road tunnel from the Eastern Freeway to the tolled CityLink road in the western suburbs, to be completed in 2019. It is estimated that the tolled east-west road tunnel will cost a minimum of $9 billion and, according to Mees, has a negligible cost-benefit ratio of 0.45%, a historic low for one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Australia.

Mees also said that the tunnel plan would not ease road congestion and was an example of extremely poor planning because most people who used the Eastern Freeway wanted to go to the city not the western suburbs.

Gabriella Pretto, from MARCG, called on the state government to fix Melbourne's public transport system instead of giving big business billions of dollars of taxpayers' money through road tunnel projects that destroy parkland. "[Premier John] Brumby, are you with us or against us?", she asked to loud cheers.

Julianne Bell from RPPG also addressed the rally and promised to keep up the campaign to save parkland, which will be either turned into wasteland or gobbled up for tunnel construction if the scheme goes ahead.

Opposition to the tunnel is growing, with large public meetings and information sessions being held in suburbs that would be adversely affected by the road tunnel. The City of Yarra is launching a new campaign group in July. Some sitting ALP MPs from Melbourne's inner-city suburbs also oppose the tunnel project and fear potentially losing seats at the 2010 state election if the highly unpopular project goes ahead.

The May 26 Age newspaper reports that the recent state ALP conference adopted a policy motion calling for a ban on the building of any more freeways in inner-city suburbs without a public transport plan.

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