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A major expansion of Melbourne's port due for completion late next year is tipped to funnel more than 6000 extra trucks a day onto the West Gate Freeway, prompting a truck industry warning that congestion on the West Gate Bridge will become dramatically worse.
The looming truck "nightmare" could have been avoided if a dormant freight rail line that runs to the docks had been reactivated instead of being sold to property developers, who have begun building luxury apartments on the site, the head of Victoria's transport industry lobby said.
Webb Dock is being expanded at a cost of $1.2 billion to create capacity for an extra one million shipping containers a year in the Port of Melbourne. The dock, directly south of the West Gate Bridge, is due to start operating in December 2016, but will have no rail access.
The West Gate and Monash freeways will provide virtually the only link to and from Webb Dock, which is forecast to generate more than 10,000 daily trips within 10 years, putting further strain on a freeway that already struggles to move more than 170,000 vehicles a day.
Peter Anderson, the chief executive of the Victorian Transport Association, warned that the lack of rail access to Webb Dock will force thousands of heavy vehicles a day onto the West Gate Bridge, many of them laden with heavy loads that will limit them to speeds of just 25 km/h as they ascend the bridge.
"We'll get the first truck out, but when we get a run [of trucks], it'll be a bottleneck, it'll fair dinkum be a nightmare," Mr Anderson said.
A new access road is being built that will directly connect Webb Dock to the freeway and keep trucks off residential streets in Port Melbourne, a key criteria of the port expansion project, which began under the former Baillieu/Napthine government.
But Mr Anderson warned the access road's mix of tight turns and T-intersections would effectively force trucks to climb the West Gate Bridge from a standing start.
"The real issue for us is getting the trucks up to speed over the bridge, when they're pulling a heavy load it takes a lot longer to do that," he said.
Mr Anderson said a dedicated truck lane could reduce the problem.
The Andrews government has begun planning to build the West Gate Distributor, a new truck bypass to the Port of Melbourne that will remove an estimated 5000 trucks a day from the bridge. But the $500 million bypass will not connect to Webb Dock.
Mr Anderson warned Webb Dock truck traffic would effectively cancel out any congestion relief the West Gate Distributor will bring.
"The West Gate Distributor will feed Swanson Dock. What's going to feed Webb Dock?" he said.
Mr Anderson lamented the failure to protect the Webb Dock rail corridor after the freight line was closed down in the 1990s with the development of Docklands. A proposal to build a freight rail bridge parallel to the Bolte Bridge failed to win support.
The Port of Melbourne Corporation proposed reopening the rail line several years ago.
Signs still dot the rail corridor stating: "This land is reserved for the future Webb Dock Rail Link", although new industrial and residential developments along the corridor have effectively ruled out its future reactivation.
Traffic modelling commissioned by the Port of Melbourne found traffic to and from Webb Dock will roughly double between this year and 2025, to 10,353 vehicles per day - 6425 trucks and 3928 cars.
A spokeswoman for Luke Donnellan, Minister for Roads and Ports, said Webb Dock's expansion would not increase congestion on the freeway.
"The additional traffic generated from the development has been assessed as having no material impact on the operation of the Westgate M1 corridor," she said.
"Both VicRoads and the Port of Melbourne are working closely together to ensure congestion is minimised."
The Port of Melbourne Corporation did not respond to written questions.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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