The Victorian Labor government is proposing to widen Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway to more than 20 lanes, arguing this would ease congestion on a thoroughfare that resembles a car park during peak time.
Opponents of the proposed North East Link project, however, argue it would not solve the problem, as expanded freeways always attract more traffic and ultimately end up even further congested. It is estimated that the widened freeway would attract about 95,000 more cars.
They are demanding that the funds instead be spent on more and better public transport.
The tollway project is expected to cost Victorian taxpayers $16.5 billion and would require the destruction of 138 homes and businesses, as well as vital green spaces, parklands, wildlife habitat and community leisure and sporting facilities.
About 26,000 trees, including a 700-year-old River Gum, would be cut down and 28 sites of cultural significance for local Aboriginal peoples would be affected.
Once completed, the tollway would increase air and noise pollution, negatively impact on human health, and lead to more traffic on local roads that feed into the freeway.
In response, local residents, together with Friends of the Earth, have launched a campaign against the North East Link and for a rail line to Doncaster, in Melbourne’s north-east.
Though such a line was first promised as far back as 1890, the area continues to be the only Melbourne metropolitan region without a train or tram line and the bus services in the area are notoriously bad.
North-eastern suburbs deserve high capacity public transport that can cater for at least 12,000 commuters each day to help ease traffic congestion and reduce emissions.
As part of the campaign, residents have been regularly displaying banners on bridges crossing the Eastern Freeway during peak hour, to send a message to commuters about the folly of the project.
They also participated in the state government’s public hearing process into the North East Link project, which ended on September 5. More than 800 submissions were made as part of the process, many opposing the construction of the mega toll road project.
A protest will be held outside state parliament on September 12, 10.30am, where they plan to hand over a petition to MPs against the North East Link.