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IT IS not too far fetched to say that the Bracks-Brumby government is a waste of space.
The seminal study on cities and motor vehicle dependence, by transport planners Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy, found that Melbourne had one of the highest ratios of road space to population of any of the cities they surveyed in the 1990s.
Since then, the Bracks-Brumby government has been responsible for $6 billion in additional freeway construction, including the latest $1.4 billion Monash-CityLink-West Gate upgrade.
These roads push Melbourne even further up this dubious international league table. Melburnians now chew up more road space and generate more emissions per capita than Londoners.
When the Montague Street interchange is completed in 18 months, it will have a length of about three football fields and the width of one football field. It is no wonder VicRoads hasn't put out computer-generated pictures of the completed project.
The mind boggles.
Minister for Roads Tim Pallas, in his press release announcing the $360 million cost blow-out, said: "The project provides a better functioning and safer freeway, and the benefit cost ratio is significant, with a $14 return on every dollar invested."
Does he mean that the benefit cost ratio (BCR) is 14; that the $1.4 billion expenditure will generate a benefit to the community of $19.6 billion?
If this can be supported, it is a good news story that Pallas and Premier John Brumby would want to broadcast loud and wide.
What could those benefits be? Less pollution? Less congestion? Time saving? Maybe.
The whole point of the exercise is to get more cars on and off the freeway and in and out of the city. This means that improvements to the interchange are designed to reduce congestion on the Monash Freeway and CityLink.
Put around another way, the extraordinary BCR of 14 is a measure of the abject failure of the Monash Freeway and CityLink to reduce congestion as was promised when they were built. If the BCR for both roads were calculated retrospectively, would they show a BCR of less than one? Meaning the state is worse off, especially if the opportunity cost of not spending an equivalent amount on public transport alternatives is taken into account?
The failure of these freeways to reduce congestion was as inevitable as night follows day.
It is safe to forecast that as the new interchanges relieve congestion and the traffic speeds up as a result, new traffic will be attracted to the roads and the city will face the same or worse congestion as it does now.
What a mess. CityLink cost about $2 billion to build. Now we have to spend $1.4 billion patching it up. The patch-up will relieve the pressure for a couple of years at most. Spaghetti junctions will be the memorial to this folly.
For some time, the Government has been quoting the benefits to Victoria of EastLink as more than $15 billion. The basis is a study by the Allen Consulting Group. The main benefits are time savings of $13 billion over 27 years.
According to the Allen report, "what is not generally known is that motorists will also save on vehicle operating costs by using EastLink. This is because EastLink will be a free-flow road that allows motorists to drive their vehicles without having to constantly accelerate and decelerate. This style of driving saves fuel and puts less wear and tear on vehicles than start-stop style of driving that occurs on congested roads."
But what happens when much of this traffic tries to get into the city via the Eastern or Monash freeways? Is the answer to the inevitable congestion even more interchanges and city ramps into the city?
At what point is this cycle of stupidity to stop? When peak oil pushes the price of oil to $US200 a barrel or when carbon dioxide emissions and other forms of vehicle pollution become so acute that car access to the city will be severely restricted?
Intelligent politicians should be trying to shape public opinion so that they can introduce policies that adapt society and the economy to the changing environment with minimum disruption.
Brumby is doing the opposite. He was reported as claiming last week that when the M1 upgrade was completed, it "was expected to increase carrying capacity by 30%".
But where will they go?
"If you asked the people of Victoria whether they like to see us spending more on roads or less on roads, I think the answer would be more," he said.
Maybe. But if they were asked whether they wanted more public transport or more roads, the answer would be different. And if they were asked whether the taxpayer should be stumping up $1.4 billion to funnel more traffic onto private toll roads, the answer would be even more emphatically no.
Are motorists so myopic that they can't see that their problem is more than just getting the car in front of them to speed up or get out of the way?
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