Victorian govt spends billions on North East Link

Protest against the North East Link.

The Victorian Labor government announced on April 15 that it would fast-track the controversial North East Link, a 26-kilometre freeway to connect the Metropolitan Ring Road at Greensborough with the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen.

One of the community groups opposing the project, Friends of Banyule, said in a statement: “At $16.5 billion the project is the most expensive infrastructure project yet proposed in Victoria and the costliest road project ever constructed in this or any other state.

“The project's massive size, scale and impact, became apparent in February this year, when details were revealed in the referral to the Commonwealth government under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act

“The corridor A route will go via Banyule Flats, Warringal Parkland, Heide Gallery, Bolin Bolin Billabong and Yarra Flats, impacting public open space, sports fields, educational and recreation facilities and five waterways including 24 kilometres of the Yarra River.

“There are eleven schools, a public golf course, a tennis centre in this corridor and approximately 70 businesses and 140 residential properties that are likely to be compulsorily acquired. Its impact will be significant and permanent.”

This route will take up land identified in the Doncaster Rail Study in 2014, for stations at East Kew and Bulleen, effectively preventing future construction of Doncaster Rail. Doncaster has no rail or tram lines despite plans first being proposed in 1890. Construction of a cutting at the city end commenced in 1974, only to be filled in two years later. In 1982 plans to build the line were shelved by the state government, and by 1984 land for the line was sold.

Manningham is the only Melbourne metropolitan region without a train or tram line. Overcrowded buses, which get caught in traffic are the only other means by which locals can travel to the CBD. And yet with 5000 new apartments going up in Doncaster in the next 14 years, the council predicts freeway traffic will only get worse.

At a time when the reality of climate change is clear, our governments are still bewitched by the car and road lobby.

A government that seriously wanted to tackle and perhaps minimise the climatic disasters ahead would invest in public transport. They would also then confront the immediate problems of air and noise pollution, particularly for residents living close to the freeway.

The state government claims that there will be time savings of half an hour each way. However, studies have shown that freeways attract traffic and any initial improvement in traffic flow is soon reversed. If the freeway becomes a toll road as feared then many drivers will seek local roads to avoid the tolls. A railway, on the other hand, will give residents in the area the option of ditching the car and avoiding the stress of congested roads and the search for a parking spot.

The Friends of Banyule statement added: “For this massive cost, as we've consistently argued, we could overhaul the transport network in Melbourne with lower cost, more effective, infrastructure projects including Doncaster Rail (including light rail or tram options), an Airport Rail Link (finally), finalise duplication of the Hurstbridge line, extend South Morang Line beyond Mernda, new technology signalling allowing more trains through the loop, an electric bus fleet connecting with trains, Rowville Rail (now again being considered) and, potentially, Metro 2.

“In short, a holistic integrated transport system for the needs of the 21st century, rather than yet another tolled freeway, with major detrimental impacts on the environment and communities, which will not resolve rapidly increasing congestion and locks us in to a car dependent future.”

[Friends of Banyule and other local community groups are organising actions to fight the construction of the North East Link. Keep in touch via www.friendsofbanyule.org.]

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