The real “balance” between freeways and public transport

When faced with accusations that it is spending too much on roads and not enough on public transport, it is common for the government to play the “balance” card. They argue that we need both; that there has to be a balance of spending.

It’s only when you look closer at where the new money is going that the real picture becomes starkly apparent. We studied metropolitan Melbourne’s freeway expansion projects of the past ten years, against the tram and train expansion projects for the same period.

Melbourne transport network expansion 1996 to 2006

While some $7 billion has been, or is currently being spent on motorway expansion in metropolitan Melbourne, the total spent on rail and tram network expansion in that time is just $225 million, around a thirtieth. Much of the road funding comes from the private sector, but it is the government that seeks and approves of the spending and construction.

The results speak volumes for the real priorities of successive state governments. They may make noises about wanting both road and public transport systems, but the reality is it is the freeway system which is continually funded and extended, not only starving public transport extensions of funding, but directly undermining it by making it easier for people to drive.

Melbourne tram/train network expansion 1996 to 2006


Current Cost millions
Eastlink $2,600
Deer Park bypass $331
Pakenham bypass $242
Greensborough bypass $17
Tullamarine/Calder $150
Total current $3,340
Past 10 years
Western ring 1997 $631
Northern ring 1999 $770
Citylink 2000 $2,000
Hallam bypass 2003 $165
Craigieburn 2005 $306
Total for past 10 years $3,872
Total past and current $7,212


Current Cost millions
Craigieburn rail $100  
Total current $100  
Past 10 years
Sydenham rail 2002 $44  
Docklands tram loop 2003 $2 *Plus an unknown amount from Docklands developers
Box Hill tram 2003 $28  
Docklands Drive tram 2005 $8  
Vermont South tram 2005 $43
Total for past 10 years $125
Total past and current $225

May 2008: Updated figures (excluding private investment)

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