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The North East Link, the costliest road expansion plan in Victoria’s history, will kill off future plans for a railway line to Doncaster, a transport users group has warned.
The $16.5 billion toll road will expand the Eastern Freeway from 10 to 16 lanes in sections around Bulleen.
It will also see a busway built on the northern side of the road, for the Doncaster shuttle that currently travels along either side of the Eastern Freeway.
Infrastructure Victoria, the state’s adviser on spending, found in 2016 that a long-term plan to build a rail line down the Eastern Freeway did not stack up.
North East Link Authority chief executive Duncan Elliott said building lanes into the freeway's median meant more homes would not need to be acquired to allow expansion up to 16 lanes.
"The upgrade has been deliberately designed so as not to rule out a future rail line being built," he said.
But Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said the massive North East Link project knocked out any realistic future possibility of the rail project, which would provide trains to Manningham – the only council area in metropolitan Melbourne without it.
“What’s being proposed is a radical reorganisation of the road corridor between Clifton Hill and Bulleen,” Dr Morton said.
The toll road plan will see the wide median strip in the middle of the Eastern Freeway since it was built in the 1970s deleted to add new car lanes. The busway would then be built alongside the expanded freeway.
“This provides space for the bus lanes they want to put on the outside of the road – but the outside will never be suitable for rail due to conflict with entrance and exit ramps,” Dr Morton said.
He said the plan to delete any future possibility of a rail line to Doncaster locked in road-based vehicles being the only way of getting around the region. “Even the proposed buses won’t be future-proof, and will in time become slow and crowded just like the busway services in Brisbane.”
He described Premier Daniel Andrews and his Roads Minister Luke Donnellan’s plan to lock out future rail proposals as “not merely short-sighted, it’s bordering on spite for the people of Manningham who spent years campaigning for a train".
Infrastructure Victoria has found the North East Link was the state's "priority road project" and would help people get around Melbourne more easily as well as enable trucks to avoid the city centre.
The government's key infrastrucutre advisor, Infrastructure Victoria, said the North East Link should be built within 10 to 15 years, because it would help ease "some of the most congested parts of the road network" as well as boost cross-town travel.
Roads Minister Luke Donnellan has previously said the North East Link would provide a “much needed alternative” to existing high productivity freight vehicle routes and mark an “important step in delivering orbital road network accessibility to industry".
The North East Link Authority predicts that up to 120,000 cars will use the proposed toll road each day.
The Public Transport Users Association pleas to protect the rail route on the Eastern Freeway follow warnings last week from environment group Friends of Banyule, who are concerned at the impact of the toll road on parklands, rivers and open space in the area.
The group’s president Dennis O’Connell said the road expansion would prevent any future rail line down the Eastern Freeway.
“This route will take up land identified in the Doncaster Rail Study in 2014, for stations at East Kew and Bulleen, effectively preventing future construction of Doncaster Rail. Other options were not, in our view, adequately considered,” Mr O’Connell said.
The North East Link Authority has been contacted for further comment.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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