The Public Transport Users Association has added its voice in solidarity with planning professionals, local councils, environment groups, Yarra Valley businesses and residents, deploring the decision by Planning Minister Richard Wynne to rubber-stamp the North East Link Environment Effects Statement.
The Minister’s decision overrides the conclusions of the Inquiry and Assessment Committee after half a year of hearings, consultations and submissions by affected parties and subject-matter experts.
“This decision gives a licence for this road to proceed in its most environmentally and socially destructive form,” PTUA President Dr Tony Morton said. “It’s taking dozens of homes and wiping out hundreds of jobs in local businesses, for a $16 billion non-solution that will generate more traffic mayhem than it removes.”
The PTUA previously poured scorn on the assessment process for its rubbery benefit-cost figures and its ‘comical’ consideration of transport alternatives. “Almost overnight the cost went from a $7 billion estimate by Infrastructure Victoria to $16 billion in the State budget estimates,” Dr Morton said. “Estimates of public benefit had to be inflated to meet the cost, but the problem with all such estimates is they assume travel-time savings that never appear in practice. Studies on previous road projects like Citylink found travel was actually slower after construction than forecast in the ‘no build’ case beforehand.”
At a time new taxes are being flagged to fund mental health, the project is accused of ‘robbing’ taxpayers of $16 billion without sound consideration of alternative spending priorities, that would have more lasting benefits for Victorians.
“Spending of this magnitude must be seriously weighed up against other budget priorities in health, education and other government services,” said Dr Morton. “But even if we focus just on transport, consider that just a fraction of this amount, spread over 10 years, would put 10-minute all-day bus services on just about every arterial road in north-east Melbourne. This kind of investment in service could provide a lasting mobility solution that short-circuits the congestion dilemma. Yet alternatives received only perfunctory consideration, taking just 16 out of 325 pages in the North East Link business case.”
As it is, those looking forward to congestion relief on local roads from the North East Link were bound to be disappointed, according to the PTUA. “No new road has ever relieved congestion on existing roads, beyond the odd short-term sugar hit,” he said. “Freight and personal travel alike will keep seeing red in traffic snarls until the Victorian Government seriously shifts its priorities.”
 Odgers, J (2009). Have all the travel time savings on Melbourne’s road network been achieved?