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Victorians should be able to vote on Transurban's $5.5 billion West Gate Tunnel – an "oversized" toll road that will worsen city traffic and "damage" Melbourne's urban area, leading experts have said.
The academic doyennes of planning and transport in Melbourne have united to deliver a withering assessment of Transurban's new toll road, warning that it will unwind decades of good planning in the state.
A 30-page report backed by 28 transport and urban planners at RMIT and Melbourne University includes a letter addressed to Premier Daniel Andrews, calling for the West Gate Tunnel to be dumped.
"Few cities in western countries continue to build motorways that bring car-based traffic into the inner city; Melbourne appears to be one exception," the letter states.
"We strongly advise that this government halt the construction of the West Gate Tunnel project until Melburnians also have had a chance to vote on its desirability.
"We are concerned that the West Gate Tunnel overreaches and misrepresents what the project can achieve."
Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan hit back at the academics, claiming that they could "pontificate on a future without roads, but ask anyone stuck in traffic on the West Gate or the Monash, ask anyone who lives in the outer west, ask anyone driving a truck down roads never designed for freight – they'll tell you that this project is urgently needed."
A Transurban spokeswoman said the new road would improve freight access to the port.
The academics, many of whom have advised on state government projects, have slammed the secrecy shrouding the project's traffic modelling and warned of a planning process riddled with "alarming" governance issues.
They call on the Andrews Government to ditch the toll road in favour of the West Gate Distributor – a 2014 Labor plan to build a direct truck route to the port for $500 million.
The original plan took trucks off roads, and was eleven times cheaper, states the report, written by six academics.
But it was dumped after the government accepted an unsolicited bid from Transurban, in return for up to 12 extra years of CityLink tolls.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne has now given environmental approval to the project, despite repeated warnings of increased traffic in the city's north and west.
"While the private sector plays a role in the procurement of infrastructure it is now time for Victoria to pause and consider carefully this relationship."
Ian Woodcock, a co-author of the report, said this was a major concern.
"One of the things that many people have feared most about this project is that it will increase the pressure for an East-West Link through the inner part of the city."
The government should prioritise the Port Rail Shuttle and Melbourne Metro 2 – an underground rail tunnel linking Clifton Hill and Newport – as these are long-term solutions to congestion, said RMIT's Dr Woodcock.
The report calls upon Victoria to develop an integrated statewide transport plan as legally required by the Transport Integration Act 2010.
A transport strategy that is being "cobbled together" allows for projects like the West Gate Tunnel, which "devastate potential for urban renewal" in brownfields areas around the city, and direct funding away from much-needed public transport, the report warns.
"This is a systemic problem, this is not a Labor or Liberal problem," said Dr Crystal Legacy, also a co-author of the report.
The Andrews Government will now move to table a planning scheme amendment and amend the CityLink Act in Parliament, where it does not have the majority in the upper house.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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