Opposition to private freeways grows


By Sean Lennon

MELBOURNE — There is increasing community anger here over the Kennett government's plans to build a number of freeways around the city, collectively known as the Melbourne City Link.

The Melbourne City Link bill — will allow an authority to oversee the construction of the Western and Southern bypasses, a six-lane tunnel under the Domain and the widening of the Tullamarine Freeway from four to eight lanes.

As well, there is the possibility of a tunnel through Richmond and another bridge parallel to the Westgate Freeway. The plan is to have all these freeways linked. As part of the project the South Eastern Arterial would also be widened.

All these projects are to be privately built, owned and operated. The project, expected to cost $2 billion, will be financed from tolls on each of these roads; 20% of the funding is to come from the federal and state governments. Federal transport minister Laurie Brereton expects the project to be completed by the year 2000.

Residents along the routes of some of these projects are already organising. Apart from the Coalition Against the Western Bypass and the Upgrade Upfield Coordinating Committee, new groups such as the Tullamarine Freeway Residents Action Group have formed to coordinate action against the private freeway system.

The state Labor opposition hasn't said much about the bill; in government the ALP supported both the Western and Southern bypasses, and in the late 1980s its plans to close the Upfield train line were thwarted only by mass community opposition.

Towards the end of its term, the Kirner government called for tenders to build the Western and Southern bypasses. This process has been continued by the Kennett government, with final submissions due by January 31. The work should start this year, the successful bidder being announced in April.

The bill exempts these projects from the Environment Effects Act and the Historic Buildings Act, at the minister's discretion. It also forces other government authorities to surrender land. The Western Bypass, for example, is to be built on land currently occupied by the Upfield rail line. Other costs to the community will come from the increased noise and traffic, and the estimated 100 buildings to be demolished.

Even now, the freeway noise is unbearable. It will get worse if the freeways are widened, and the expected closure of the Upfield Line will inconvenience many without alternative transport.