Premier super-sizes toll road

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On becoming Premier, Denis Napthine leg-shackled himself to building the $6-8 billion East-West toll road, set to be the most expensive traffic jam in the Victorian history.

Then he discovered it’s economically unviable, socially retrograde and environmentally disastrous, not to mention deeply unpopular - among both experts and the public. Every poll confirms that Victorians would prefer investment in public transport.

So Premier Napthine spent over three million of our taxpayers dollars advertising it, trying to make it more popular.

Instead, hundreds of individuals and groups lined up at its Comprehensive Impact Statement hearings to explain why it should never be built.

The government’s own traffic modelers agreed that soon after building the toll road, traffic in Alexandra Parade would return to current levels. So the advertising we paid for in Alexandra Parade saying “East-West Link: Less traffic around here” is perhaps more correctly termed as simply false advertising.

Next the Premier tried going very quiet on the toll road, and instead talking up his public transport credentials. This was tricky, because his government hasn’t really initiated any major public transport infrastructure projects.

So he promised major upgrades to the Dandenong line, which are long overdue and most welcome. Buoyed, he promised (poorly thought-through) ticket price cuts, which are likely to be wiped out by the next fare increase. These were widely criticised... but then the opposition matched them.

Next, he reminded us that sometimes the Liberals’ public transport promises sound like a broken record, by repeating their 2010 promise to build Southland Station in the next term of government. Oops.

So now he’s trying the “crash or crash through” approach, super-sizing the toll road all the way to Sunshine. Maybe that will make Victorians like it - and give him another term in office.

Well, we have news for him.

We know more motorways in congested areas don’t fix congestion. The extra road space soon fills up with more cars and slows to a crawl, whereas investing in public transport gets some cars off the roads, creating space for the remaining motorists.

We know that you don’t build major transport projects unless they have a decent Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) otherwise they will drain, not boost, our economy.

The current state government was elected on a platform of improving public transport, which is sensible and popular policy. After the election, they backflipped and made building another motorway their top transport priority. They’ve paid for this in the polls.

Deciding to super-size the toll road now is like attempting a double backflip with pike, six months out from the election, in a desperate bid to impress Victorians. The most likely result is that the Premier will hit his head on the diving board.

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