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Motorists who use the East West Link in the peak could pay a higher toll than those who drive on the planned road outside of rush-hour.
In what would be a first for Melbourne motorists, a "variable toll" could be set as a way to manage peak-hour traffic flows on the link road, which is ultimately planned to run between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road via the Port of Melbourne.
The prospect of higher peak-hour tolls was raised on the first morning of the Napthine government's 30-day planning panel hearing into the $6 billion-$8 billion project.
Planning lawyer Stuart Morris, QC, who is representing state agency the Linking Melbourne Authority, said variable tolls could be set by the government as a way to manage congestion.
"Variable tolls can be used, for example, so that the toll during the peak hour can be higher than the toll outside of the peak hour," Mr Morris said. "So if there is a desire to ensure that the traffic always moves at a reasonable speed during the peak hour, the fact that the government will be the tolling body and will be able to use tolls as a demand management tool puts it in a significantly different position than the existing toll roads."
Fairfax Media can also reveal that serious doubts were expressed about the economic case for the east-west link, by a senior consultant contracted by the Coalition government to review the unpublished business case.
In written advice obtained by Fairfax Media, leading transport consultant Chris Tehan questioned the merits of how the Transport Department evaluated the road's economic benefits. This included "the way that they eastern section [between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink] is sometimes considered as a stand-alone and sometimes as part of the full scheme".
"There is a standard approach that could be taken, which does not appear to have been followed and which helps to provide greater clarity," Mr Tehan wrote to Paul Smith, the department's senior project manager for the East West Link.
Mr Tehan also questioned the large gap between the benefit-cost ratio for the road under conventional assessment methods ("saved travel time and operating costs") against wider economic benefits.
"Initial observations are that the ratio between the two is very atypical with the latter being much higher as a proportion of overall benefits than would normally be expected," he wrote.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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