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The Victorian government provided funding for a new city freeway this week but spurned a new rail line. It’s important to understand why governments continue to favour roads over rails
The Victorian government’s decision to provide $6-$8 billion in Tuesday’s budget for Stage 1 of the East-West Link freeway but virtually nothing for the Melbourne Metro rail line is a major disappointment for public transport advocates.
The government however says it remains committed to building both. The explanation offered by the Premier, Dennis Napthine, is that the freeway is ready to proceed but the rail line isn’t. He says the business case for the Metro isn’t finished yet.
Many observers doubt the sincerity of that explanation and are pessimistic about the chances of the Metro being built. They question the wisdom of prioritising the freeway over the rail line given that:
The relative virtues of investing in roads or rail have been debated for years in many forums. I’m not going to re-visit that debate here nor argue the relative merits of the two projects (see here and here for previous discussions).
Rather, I think it’s important for ongoing policy to try and understand why the government has prioritised the East-West Link over the Metro.
Here are some possible explanations that might’ve figured in the government’s decision-making processes (bearing in mind these projects are competing for limited funding but they’re not substitutes for each other i.e. they have largely different functions and markets):
There are doubtless other possible explanations. I think the important lesson this list suggests is that there are underlying or ‘structural’ reasons why state governments from both sides of politics are likely to tend to favour investing in new freeways ahead of new rail.
Significantly increasing and sustaining the level of investment in rail relative to freeways in the long-term requires more than the conventional road vs rail arguments, many of which focus on environmental issues that governments seem happy to ignore.
This article first appeared on blogs.crikey.com.au
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