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Melbourne traffic left to get worse as transport authorities fail to fix traffic lights

Date

Adam Carey

Some of Melbourne’s most chronically clogged intersections have been left to gradually get worse for several years, in breach of state guidelines that traffic lights must be reviewed every five years to keep pace with congestion.

VicRoads periodically tweaks Melbourne’s traffic lights to maximise traffic flow as the number of vehicles on the road changes over time, but at the authority’s current rate of progress, some intersections currently face a 20-year wait before the signal phasing is changed.

A report by Auditor-General John Doyle, published on Wednesday, found the state’s transport authorities are failing to make the most of information technology such as intelligent traffic light phasing and tram and bus tracking systems to minimise congestion.

Authorities including the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, VicRoads and Public Transport Victoria ‘‘have no strategy or co-ordinated plan to use ICT traffic management systems’’ to complement broader plans to keep Melbourne’s traffic moving.

The result is an increasingly saturated road network, with deteriorating traffic flow that results in motorists and tram and bus passengers alike spending more time stuck in traffic.

Tram and bus priority signals at intersections are also ineffective, the report found, because there is no public transport tracking technology that also talks to traffic light signals. 

‘‘At present, priority for trams is not effective and can cause inefficient and protracted red light time for tram passengers,’’ Mr Doyle wrote.

Melbourne’s tram tracking technology is obsolete, but a budgeted plan to overhaul the technology was recently deferred by Public Transport Victoria.

Melbourne’s trams spend 17 per cent of journey time sitting at traffic lights on average, data shows, compared to an average of 1 to 3 per cent in countries including France and Britain.

‘‘Until a new automatic vehicle monitoring system is procured and commissioned, the issues described above will continue,’’ the report found.

The report also identified Melbourne’s 10 worst intersections for congestion in the morning and evening peak. Many of these intersections have had no traffic signal review in recent years.

The intersection of City Road and Power Street in Southbank had the unwanted distinction last year and in 2012 of being Melbourne’s worst bottleneck in the morning peak. Traffic light phasing has not been reviewed there in recent years.

In the afternoon, the worst intersection last year was the corner of Princes Highway and Warrigal Road in Oakleigh, which has been reviewed.

Other horror intersections that have had no recent review include the corner of Sydney Road and Albion Street in Brunswick, Warrigal Road and North Road in Oakleigh, and Heidelberg Road, Grange Road and Chandler Highway in Alphington.

Mr Doyle made eight recommendations, including that VicRoads ‘‘as a priority, makes improvements to the traffic signal review program’’, increase the frequency of its reviews and work with public transport operators in considering which routes to review. 

Intelligent transport measures that reduce congestion, including ramp metering, variable message signs and reversible traffic lanes should be considered, he said.

The authority should also work with Public Transport Victoria to give trams and buses better priority on the roads.

Congestion cost Melbourne’s economy between $1.3 billion and $2.6 billion a year, the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission estimated in a 2006 review, which forecast that congestion costs would double by 2020.

 Transport authorities have accepted all of Mr Doyle’s eight recommendations.

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