Public transport authority and VicRoads join forces on Punt Road widening plans

The state's public transport authority has backed a push by VicRoads to widen Punt Road at key choke points, and eventually to consider demolishing homes to turn the heavily congested arterial road into a six-lane highway.

Public Transport Victoria, which is now led by the former chief executive of VicRoads, has backed the roads agency's push for all-day clearways on Punt Road.

Punt Road would be widened to six lanes under options put forward by VicRoads.
Punt Road would be widened to six lanes under options put forward by VicRoads.  Photo: Darrian Traynor

And, over the long term, it has also supported VicRoads' view that a six-lane dual carriageway could one day be needed on Punt Road, which is now a four-lane arterial road.

The two transport authorities have made a joint submission to a panel advising Planning Minister Richard Wynne on whether to keep, modify or remove an overlay that would allow 140 properties on Punt Road to be compulsorily acquired for road widening.

Both want the overlay – on the affected Punt Road homes and properties since 1954 – to be kept.

Labor went to the 2014 election promising to review the overlay because, the party's planning policy said, it "gives locals no control over the fate of their own homes".


Residents furious

Now, residents are furious they are facing a widening of the road instead of removing the condition on their house titles that drives down their property values.

"To keep us on side, Labor said 'We will order this inquiry because it's not right,'" said Andrew Carrasco​, a member of Drop Punt, the resident group lobbying to get the overlay removed. "Now they've just turned about face, and said in fact 'We should build a highway.' It's a real betrayal."

In October, VicRoads put forward seven alternative plans to free space on Punt Road. 

They include removing all parking to create permanent clearways, widening Punt Road at its major intersections requiring 65 properties to be acquired or impacted, and widening the length of Punt Road from the Yarra to St Kilda Junction by knocking down at least 130 homes.

It also put forward the potential to build a new one-way bridge next to the heritage-listed Morell Bridge by the Botanic Gardens. The Morell Bridge is closed to traffic, and open only to cyclists and pedestrians.

This idea has now been dumped, with the joint PTV-VicRoads submission saying it was "a concept plan only and will not be progressed further". 

But the roads and public transport agencies have both backed, in the short term, the idea of improved turning lanes on Punt Road.

And the two agencies have also said that, in the medium term (between five and 15 years away, in their submission), demolition of around half the properties on Punt Road may be needed to widen major intersections.

And both agree a full widening of the arterial road may be needed, with dedicated bus priority lanes along the length of Punt Road, as well as two lanes for cars.

Turning Punt Road from a four-lane arterial to a six-lane highway would "allow for significant amenity improvements through widened footpaths and a central median; extensive tree planting could be achieved both along the verges and median", they said in their submission.

Road expansion agenda

The Public Transport Users Association said the submission showed that Victoria's state bureaucracy still had a "road expansion agenda" despite promises to provide more focus on improving public transport.

"Our transport bureaucracy is still incapable of picturing any future scenario where increased growth and activity isn't catered for primarily through more private car travel," the association's president Tony Morton said.

Dr Morton said the PTUA offered "cautious support" to some of the options being considered that offered improvements to public transport.

But he said the longer-term proposal to widen Punt Road to six lanes with dedicated bus lanes should only be considered if it garnered widespread local community support.

And he predicted if hundreds of millions of dollars were spent widening Punt Road to six lanes, it would "soon enough be swamped by diverted and induced traffic".

A PTV spokesman said the agency worked closely with VicRoads to create a transport network that could accommodate patronage growth in the short, medium and long term.

"Punt Road is a critical and growing corridor for motorists and public transport. As such, it is important to protect opportunities to widen the corridor to meet longer-term demands," he said. "As the frequency of bus services on Punt Road increases, we may need to consider improved priority and segregation of public transport services to ensure they can operate reliably and efficiently."