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The West Gate and Bolte bridges will need to be strengthened and the western end of the scrapped East West Link needs to be built to cope with a fivefold increase in container traffic at the privatised port of Melbourne, its new operators say.
The port's new owner, the Lonsdale Consortium, says the port could grow to handle between 12 and 15 million containers a year, up from 2.5 million now, ensuring that Melbourne remains Australia's busiest container port for the next 50 years.
After paying $9.7 billion last year for a 50-year lease, the consortium wants big changes to Melbourne's roads and rail lines to help deal with a huge jump in freight traffic.
The changes would help grow the port's capacity and maximise the consortium's return on its investment, but it wants the Andrews government to make a series of tough political calls to help it achieve this ambitious target.
These include re-examining truck curfews that communities in the inner west have fought to secure for years and committing to a multibillion-dollar road project Labor cancelled at the last election.
It also says Melbourne's two most important bridges, the West Gate and the Bolte, should be strengthened so they can safely support much heavier trucks weighing up to 109 tonnes. Both bridges have a mass limit of 68 tonnes.
A failure to make the changes could limit the port's growth prospects, and curb Victoria's economic prosperity, the port's owners argue.
The Port of Melbourne Corporation has outlined its blueprint for the port's development in a submission to Infrastructure Victoria, which is assessing where Melbourne's second container port should be located.
The submission, dated April 3, poses a series of confronting positions for the Andrews government, including casting doubt on how successfully its biggest road project, Transurban's West Gate Tunnel, will take trucks off local roads.
The government announced this month that full-time truck bans would start when the $5.5 billion West Gate Tunnel opens in 2022.
But the port submitted that the bans "will not address the inner west truck issue, as the trucks will take the most direct transport route possible between their origin and destination".
Traffic analysis confirmed the port was responsible for "only a relatively small component of the overall truck movements through the inner west", the port said, while analysis of five years of VicRoads crash data showed a truck was involved in just one crash where a person was killed or seriously injured out of 30 in the inner west between 2008 and 2012.
The port wants the government to encourage truck operators to work at night when traffic is lighter.
"Truck curfew hours should be carefully considered," the submission says, "as it has significant impact on supporting the 24 hours operation model of the Port of Melbourne".
It also argues Infrastructure Victoria was wrong to conclude in its recent 30-year strategy report that the East West Link will not be needed for another 15 to 30 years.
It argues the road will be required "in the short to medium term", even without the anticipated growth in truck traffic.
Roads Minister Luke Donnellan, however, countered that local roads are an inefficient way for truck operators to transport goods.
"The freight industry needs an efficient connection to the port – one that has been specially designed for heavy vehicles – not suburban streets," he said.
Opposition roads spokesman Ryan Smith said it was clear the port had doubts about the West Gate Tunnel's usefulness. The port was "clearly saying that Labor's truck tunnel is a second rate option, with the western section of the East West Link, ditched by Daniel Andrews, clearly the better option," he said.
Colleen Hartland, Western Metropolitan Greens MP, said that in focusing on crash statistics, the port had "completely missed the point on why trucks are dangerous to health".
"The issue for children is about exposure to diesel particulates and noise. Maribyrnong has the highest rate of children's admission to hospital for respiratory illnesses in the state," she said.
The Port of Melbourne has called for an increase in freight on rail as the port expands. Photo: Pat Scala
The submission also said the Webb Dock Rail link would need to be reinstated if the port is to achieve hoped for capacity of 12 to 15 million containers a year.
This would include constructing a new low-span bridge over the Yarra River, west of the Bolte Bridge, which would draw open to allow ships to pass.
It offered no opinion on where Melbourne's next major port should be located, arguing only that "a second Victorian container port will not be required for many decades yet to come".
The $9.7 billion the consortium paid to lease the port was about $3 billion more than the Andrews government had expected to reap.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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