Myth: There’s only one river crossing from Melbourne’s West

Fact: Even without counting the Western Ring Road, there are actually four road and two rail crossings from the west of Melbourne to the city and eastern suburbs, providing a total of 22 road lanes and six (soon eight) railway tracks. Even as things stand now the most conspicuous, yet overlooked, “alternatives to the West Gate Bridge” are the rail lines through Footscray station, which carry twice as many people as the Bridge in the busiest hour of each day.

Central to the propaganda campaign for the westward extension of the Eastern Freeway, from Sir Rod Eddington’s East West Link Needs Assessment of 2008 to the former Napthine Government’s enthusiasm, is the idea that “there is only one river crossing from the western suburbs to the city” or that “we need an alternative to the West Gate Bridge”.

Not infrequently, the East-West road link is referred to as a “second Yarra crossing” despite the fact the proposed route, since at least 2008, doesn’t go anywhere near the Yarra River!

THE campaign for federal funding to go towards planning a second Yarra River crossing has been revved up as cracks have appeared in the West Gate Bridge…. Thousands of Geelong motorists cross the West Gate Bridge every day and local groups have lobbied for an extra Yarra crossing to ease the log jam.

Push for second Yarra crossing as West Gate feels strain, Geelong Advertiser, 9 February 2012

Demographer Bernard Salt said a second Yarra crossing was desperately needed. “We need a solution to the West Gate now, right now. What chaos is it going to be in 2021, 2022, 10 years’ time?” he said. “Melbourne’s most pressing traffic issue at the moment is the second crossing of the Yarra,” he said.

West Gate stretched to the limit, The Age, 3 June 2013

Melbourne actually got its second Yarra crossing back in the year 2000, when the Bolte Bridge opened as part of CityLink. Clearly, what the road lobbyists really mean when talking about a ‘second crossing’ is an east-west route, from the suburbs west of the Maribyrnong River to the city or the eastern suburbs.

Even on this understanding, though, the West Gate Bridge is far from the only river crossing from the West, even if one only considers road routes. As former PTUA President Daniel Bowen writes in this blog entry, there are at least three other major arterial roads crossing the Maribyrnong south of Flemington Racecourse:

  • Footscray Road, with two lanes each way where it crosses the river on the north side of the dock area;
  • Dynon Road, with two lanes each way where it crosses just to the east of central Footscray; and
  • Smithfield Road, with two lanes each way on the south side of the racecourse.

Together with the 5 lanes each way now provided on the Bridge itself, this adds up to 22 road lanes crossing to the city from the west.

But we shouldn’t stop there, because one doesn’t have to drive a car to get into the City from the western suburbs, and it’s not even clear that the majority of peak-hour travellers actually do.

For a start, there are four suburban railway tracks passing through Footscray station and crossing the Maribyrnong just north of Dynon Road. These currently carry 21 suburban trains into the city in the busiest hour of the day, on the Sunbury, Werribee, Altona and Williamstown lines.

There are two additional tracks that dive under Footscray station and cross the river south of Dynon Road. These tracks carry freight trains as well as long-distance passenger trains to Sydney, Adelaide and Albury.

Last but not least are two tracks being newly built as part of the Regional Rail Link project, parallel to the four existing suburban tracks. These will carry V/Line trains from Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo – up to 12 per hour at present.

If one conservatively assumes those 21 suburban trains and 12 V/Line trains in the busiest hour of the peak are on average 80% full, those trains represent between 16,000 and 17,000 passengers – twice as many as drive or are driven over the West Gate Bridge toward the city in the same hour. And unlike on the West Gate, there is room for more: even without the proposed Melbourne Metro rail tunnel, the completion of the Regional Rail link will provide capacity for additional trains carrying some 8,000 passengers as a minimum – again, the same number as travel over the West Gate.

So in fact, Melbourne already has its “alternative to the West Gate Bridge”: it consists of additional trains through Footscray, supported by a network of fast, frequent bus routes in the cities of Maribyrnong, Hobsons Bay, Brimbank, Wyndham and Greater Geelong.

Of course, it will be objected that freight can’t travel by bus, and much of it can’t even travel by train. No matter – even on the West Gate today, freight vehicles represent less than 20% of the traffic. As our freight page explains, the real impediment to efficient freight movement in Melbourne is all the private car traffic that gets in the way of trucks, and the most effective freight solution is to give at least some of those people in private cars an alternative to sitting on a congested West Gate Bridge.

Last modified: 4 March 2015