3 Oct 2013

Toll Roads And Other Mumbo Jumbo

By Elliot Fishman

The Victorian Government has begun the first stage of the East-West Toll Link, against the best advice. It will be the biggest misallocation of funds in Victorian transport history, writes Elliot Fishman

The Victorian Government’s dedication to the $15 billion first stage of the East-West toll road has transport planners scratching their heads. They have refused to release a business case for the project, a sure sign that shoddy forecasting forms the foundation of what promises to be the greatest misallocation of transport funds in Melbourne’s history.

There are plenty of reasons not to go ahead with the East-West toll road.

Most importantly, the proposal goes against the global trend of successful cities moving away from urban freeways and towards expansion of rail lines and the intensification of development along them. Detroit, the great US Auto City has just gone bankrupt, the largest city in US history to do so. When we think of great cities, we think of those with high quality, walkable neighbourhoods. Houston, Atlanta and LA rarely come to mind, but NYC, Paris and London frequently do. 

Australian Bureau of Statistics census data for 2011 show Melburnians are shifting to public transport in record numbers, car use is beginning to stagnate and in some areas decline. This is a global phenomenon and one we should embrace, not resist.

Sir Rod Eddington produced a comprehensive technical evaluation of east west transport needs in Melbourne. Economic modelling performed for his report by Meyrick and Associates found the project would deliver a cost-benefit ratio of 0.7, meaning that for every $1 invested, only 70c is returned in economic gain. The government has hashed together a new figure of $1.40, without releasing any of the assumptions underlying the new calculation. One can only agree with transport academic Dr John Stone that these numbers are “mumbo-jumbo”. 

Moreover, the Eddington Report found only a small fraction of the cars banked up on the Eastern Freeway are actually headed to the western region of Melbourne! Why build a tunnel to the west when the overwhelming majority of traffic is headed elsewhere?

Job creation appears to be a key motive for the project. The government frequently touts the 3200 jobs they expect to be created by the project, as though the East-West toll road would be somehow unique in its ability to create jobs. The fact is that any transport project costing as much as the East-West toll road creates about 3200 jobs.

We could say the same about the construction of rail projects. Given that Melbourne has not had a significant addition to its rail network since the 1930s, when its population was a little under a million (it’s now 4 million), this, not toll roads should be the government’s focus.

The Victorian taxpayer wears all the risk. Should toll revenue not be as high as forecast, the Victorian will be left to foot the bill, helping to prop up the private operator and their shareholders. This should have the taxpayer worried, given that Australian toll roads in recent history have consistently reported significantly weaker traffic volumes than forecast. The issue has become so contentious that some international transport consultancies refuse to undertake such forecasts, for fear of legal action against it should be prove inaccurate.

As the late transport academic Dr Paul Mees identified, should the government continue with its threat to go ahead with this project, funds will dry up for much more worthy projects, for a generation. Melbourne can ill afford to forgo the much needed expansion its public transport network that will be an inevitable consequence of the toll road.

No genuine public consultation has taken place. This is largely because the people that will have to live with the compulsory land acquisitions, years of construction disruption, overpasses, and exits flooding traffic onto local streets typically don’t vote Liberal. Clifton Hill, Collingwood, Carlton and Flemington residents typically vote Labor or Green. The Victorian Government has little regard for the determined community effort Melbourne residents in the inner north have mounted to try and protect their suburbs.

Petrol prices have hit highs not seen since 2008, when a barrel of crude cost $US148. Despite the weak global economic outlook, global oil prices at hovering above $US100 and Australians are set to experience more pain at the pump, exacerbated by the lower Australian dollar relative to the greenback. CSIRO forecast that petrol could cost anywhere between $2 to $8 per litre by 2018, one year before the east west road toll would be expected to be complete. The government should be left in no doubt that if CSIRO pricing window proof correct, the demand for urban freeways of the type proposed will be severely diminished and the Victorian taxpayer will be exposed to a huge bailout of the private operator.

If the Victorian Government wishes to improve transport options for Melbourne, its going to need to sharpen its pencil. Going ahead with this 1950s style mega project will kill funds for much more worthy and sustainable transport projects, expose the taxpayer to significant risk and perhaps most importantly, is unlikely to help solve troubles with Melbourne’s transport system.

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Posted Thursday, October 3, 2013 - 16:36

Ah, but our worthless, corrupt state government doesn’t wish to improve transport options for Melbourne. If it did it wouldn’t even have proposed this freeway, which it went to the previous election promising not to build. Instead of manically, mercilessly trying to foist this sacrilege on the public before we have time to realise what’s hit us, it would be ruthlessly implementing the (phoney) public transport policy it took to the election and that was solely responsible for its election win. Labor’s own post mortem of its election loss established that public transport was a major factor in its defeat.

The LNP lied its way into power. They never intended to build train lines. They intended to build this freeway, which is why they backflipped within months of winning the election. They’re an illegitimate government that has lost the moral right to govern.

Unfortunately the Governor can’t sack them for that. We need two LNPs with a conscience (if that isn’t an oxymoron) who are in the Lower House to resign and join Labor in a motion of no confidence. Then the Governor can finally sack them.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. jnightin
Posted Thursday, October 3, 2013 - 16:38

As Paul Keating pointed out, perhaps unnecessarily, always put your money on the horse called 'self interest'.

What flows of funds could possibly run into politicians pockets from toll road projects that doesn't run when it's just a railway line? The behaviour of Leightons revealed today by the Fairfax press may give food for thought.  Or is it simply that roads always run through marginal electorates while railway lines don't. Sounds a bit far-fetched.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Dinky Di
Posted Thursday, October 3, 2013 - 17:41

Over 30 years ago transport planners were telling us that building new freeways to ease traffic congestion, would only cause more traffic and result in more congestion. You wonder how long it will take before this simple truth makes its way into a cabinet room.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. douglas jones
Posted Friday, October 4, 2013 - 09:45

The reasons? More roads more cars hopefgully Australian, that is point one serves the car industry. Point two saves any admission of a climate problem. point three satisfies Abbotts desire to be an infrastructure freaks making not repairs to areas neglected by Howard but boid new ones funded in the way neoliberal funding goes. That is user pays and the useful profit! Point four in the election campaign Abbott had to be seen as one of largesse. Point five I assume big business chose the biscuits. To say this has anything to do with city planning is a joke.

Posted Friday, October 4, 2013 - 12:48

Spot on! The key to understanding this fiasco is that the Naptime government isn't acting in good faith. They're not stupid - they're evil. They know full well what damage their freeway building will do to people's health and Melbourne's livability. But all they care about is looking after their mate$$$ (and future employers and fellow company directors).

Posted Friday, October 4, 2013 - 16:51

Good article but some key science-based arguments against the climate criminal East-West Link have not been canvassed.

1. Rail or tram transport is  circa 20 times more energy efficient than road transport. Thus a 4WD that carries 5 passengers uses the same energy per kilometer as a tram that takes 100.

2. Carbon burning emissions kill about 10,000 Australians annually and of these about 2,000 Australians are killed  by vehicle  emissions each year,  this constiituting a fundamental reason why we should be  building railways for renewable energy-driven trains and not highhways (see “Australian carbon burning-related deaths and carbon burning subsidies => minimum Carbon Price of A$554 per tonne carbon (C) or A$151 per tonne CO2-e ”, Yarra Valley Climate Action Group: http://sites.google.com/site/yarravalleyclimateactiongroup/2011-carbon-burning ).

3. The worsening climate crisis means that the world has to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and eventually reach zero emissions. Indeed top climate scientists and biologists are telling us that reaching zero emissions is not enough – we then have to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration from the current 400 parts per million (ppm) to 350 ppm (according to 350.org: http://350.org/ ) and thence to 300 ppm (according to the latest science-informed 300.org: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/300-org---return-atmosphere-co2-to-300-ppm ). In 2009 the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) determined that for a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree C temperature rise, the World must pollute less than 600 Gt CO2 (600 billion tonnes CO2) between 2010 and essentially zero emissions in 2050. Unfortunately, climate criminal Australia has  already used up its “share” of this terminal greenhouse gas (GHG) budget (see Gideon Polya, “Highly GHG polluting Australia, Canada & US default on & expand Carbon Debt”, Bellaciao, 4 October 2013: http://bellaciao.org/en/spip.php?article22888 ). Of the numerous things Australia should be urgently doing, building more highways is certainly not one of them.

4. A key issue is intergenerational equity and intergenerational justice that is being grossly violated by the climate criminal Coaltion troglodytes. All pro-fossil fuel, pro-coal, pro-gas, anti-environment, . anti-science, climate criminal  Coalition governments, both State and Federal, should be  kicked out at the first opportunity for their imposition of gross intergenerational inequity and intergenerational injustice.

Tell every young person you know to enrol and vote out these climate criminals who are poisoning the world and, incidentally , through depraved indifference  at best and egregious, criminal corruption at worst,  helping kill 10,000 Australians each year through carbon burning pollutants.



Posted Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 15:28

If we can boot our Napthine in a little over a year maybe we can stop it.

Malcolm Hillier
Posted Sunday, October 6, 2013 - 20:09

We need a Lawer in the House now to go the courts to have this stopped the Government is now out of Control send letter to Victoria Govener to resolve the Palenment and sack the Government Now this can be done stop all Payments to workers Company's so nothing can be done how can you start a job when it has not been signed off and NO busseness Plan 

Posted Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 13:37

There's hope of a legal challenge. See this:


The Governor can't sack them except in two circumstances, none of which applies at present (see http://www.governor.vic.gov.au/images/Governor%20Chernov/Role%20of%20the%20Governor%20of%20Victoria%20Booklet%20-%20web%20version%202013.pdf)


Maybe they will apply eventually. God save the Queen!