Victoria

Transurban's tollway plan could choke the city with extra cars

Thousands of extra cars would be funnelled each day into central Melbourne through publicly owned land planned for housing, under the Andrews government's business case for a new western suburbs tollway.

More News Videos

Western Distributor: a toll road for Melbourne's west

A $5.5 billion new toll road, the Western Distributor, will be built in Melbourne's west. (Video supplied by Victorian State Government)

The plan would turbocharge profits for Transurban from its $5.5 billion Western Distributor project.

But it would go against initiatives at the local and state level to discourage car use in Melbourne's CBD.

An artist's impression of the Western Distributor tollway as it crosses the Maribyrnong River.
An artist's impression of the Western Distributor tollway as it crosses the Maribyrnong River.  Photo: Supplied

The government's proposed tolling scheme says three new off-ramps could be included in the toll road to help disperse traffic.

Motorists would be discouraged from using the off-ramps by a $4.43 morning rush-hour toll, on top of a base $2.77 charge applicable at all times.

Advertisement

John Stanley, a Sydney University transport planning expert and an adviser to the planning minister on the government's Plan Melbourne strategy, said building city access roads off the new tollway was a terrible idea.

It should only be done if punitive tolls were charged at peak hours to discourage motorists. "The last thing you want to do is add road capacity to feed the CBD at peak times," he said.

graphic

He said the only way Transurban should be allowed to build new city off-ramps funnelling traffic into the city fringes was if they also applied extremely high tolls – a minimum of $5.

"If you put these access points in, what will they do to air pollution, to accidents, to the disamenity in the city from more cars around?" he asked. "Putting a modest charge on doesn't deal with the problem."

One-off projects like the Western Distributor were dictating how Melbourne grew, he said. "Plan Melbourne is where this is supposed to be sorted out, and this is where cities like London are way ahead of us," he said. "What we do is find transport problems and solve them without reference to any wider issues."

RACV public policy general manager Brian Negus said the proposed city fringe exits put forward in the government business case had merit.

"It makes eminent sense [because] it gives people alternatives," he said. And it was acceptable to charge higher tolls at key times of day if it would dissuade motorists from driving if they could catch a train, tram or bus.

"But we wouldn't want to see car travel militated against with an inappropriate toll structure," he said.

Melbourne City Council's transport portfolio chair Cathy Oke said it was crucial the project didn't encourage cars to enter central Melbourne.

"The onus is on the government to show how this won't increase cars coming into the CBD," she said.

The business case prepared by the government to assess Transurban's plan also proposes a separate new road linking Wurundjeri Way to Dynon Road.

Treasurer Tim Pallas on Tuesday said the government would begin an environmental assessment of the Western Distributor next month. He said the publicly owned E-Gate land, next to Docklands, would not be badly affected.

E-Gate is 20 hectares of publicly owned industrial land on the CBD fringe, where Major Projects Victoria is overseeing a high-density residential plan.

The site is currently used by Yarra Trams and Metro Trains for maintenance, and as a freight hub. A new suburb for about 10,000 residents is planned there.

But the government's tolling plan shows a new off-ramp through its centre. Its impact was considered by government transport consultants, who write in the business case that the new road could help make E-Gate more easily accessible.

A Major Projects Victoria spokesman said the agency couldn't comment on how the Western Distributor would affect E-Gate until its design was finalised.

21 comments