Thursday, 29 October 2015

Greg Hunt's Melbourne 2200 Vision is an Expensive Flop - Here's How It SHOULD Be Done ... Part Four

Revisit Part One - Network Needs
Revisit Part Two - Expansion Phase One
Revisit Part Three - Expansion Phase Two

Road Improvements 
As stated, this entire plan is predicated on the assumption that road projects are inevitably going to deliver diminishing returns in terms of an ability to improve Melbourne's transport network capacity, and will not deliver anything transformational in terms of current usage patterns. That said, I have allowed for some very obvious projects to address all the remaining network issues presented by the existing roads network. Three of these four projects are situated around the geographic heart of the network.

Western Distributor
I've allowed, in order to show the full network effects, for the seemingly inevitable construction of the Western Distributor along the lines already put forward by Transurban. That this can be achieved at minimal cost to the public purse, and addresses some of the capacity issues on the West Gate. This is therefore a complete no-brainer.

It must be said, this is going to be an elevated road right through the middle of an area I've identified as Melbourne's prime urban renewal zone. Ideally this would be done with a long term structure plan for the redevelopment of the Port already in place. We don't live in an ideal world, but I hope readers can see that there are is a slew of long-run issues around which Melbourne only stands to benefit if it were to engage with them in a systematic, integrated and planned manner.

Instead this road will be built in the next five years, the can will be kicked down the track as to what the future of the Port is, and planning will continue to operated in an unprogrammatic, ad hoc and short-term manner.

That's ONE thing Greg Hunt promised to rescue us from. A willingness to embrace a bold vision in order to radically reconceive this city's transport usage patterns rather than just play patch-ups with existing demand is vital if we want to deliver an outcome that looks significantly different to the present day.

Proposed Western Distributor and Second River Crossing (green)
Second River Crossing
In order to provide a long-run solution for West Gate capacity issues, a second river crossing is going to be required. As per previous, I'm proposing a shared road and rail bridge, and similar to existing proposals would then tunnel the road component through to Geelong Road.

Remember, of course I am COMPLETELY relocating the Port of Melbourne. If there's any argument for retaining any port facilities at a central location (and I'm yet to hear a single practical such reason in the ten years I've been banging on about this), then that should be done at Webb Dock. So, this bridge doesn't need to be West Gate tall, it needs to be Bolte tall. Container ships won't be traversing the Yarra mouth anymore.

An Alternative East-West Link
There are two main issues with the termination of the Eastern Freeway in Abbotsford. The first is providing a link for traffic transiting to the northern suburbs, the second is providing a link for traffic accessing the CBD, aka the "Punt Road Problem". The East-West link only ever addressed the first of these two issues.

My proposed solution, as already flagged, is for a combined road and rail tunnel from the end of the Eastern freeway to access Footscray Road at Docklands. From there, traffic either heads north or South on CityLink or accesses the CBD,

This of course also provides effective access via City Link to the West Gate and Monash, and it obviates the need for a major upgrade of Punt Road, which instead can be planted with lovely green medians and bike lines and two lanes of traffic either way.

You'd also need to look at improving the City Access route from Footscray Rd, as this becomes an horrendous bottleneck at Docklands already.

All Proposed Central Roads Network Improvements

M80-Eastlink Connector
As previously flagged, I'm allowing the final wet dream of VicRoads freeway planners, completing the outer orbital road network by linking the Ring Road with Eastlink. I recently worked in Thomastown and this area of Melbourne is thoroughly dysfunctional in terms of its transport connections to any major urban centers. Getting anywhere in that part of the world in peak times is a wholesale nightmare. As we've seen, network development would only provide any kind of heavy rail solution to this region in a mooted stage four development.

Again, this would also ideally be a combined road and rail tunnel to allow for that development, but realistically getting that sort of expense costed into a road project would be a pipe dream for an extension even I can only characterise as "mooted" at this point.

Proposed M80-Eastlink Connector (green)
The Complete Plan
And, so there it all is. Networked solutions for both road and rail to allow for a metropolitan area that establishes significant CAD zones dispersed in such a way as to make the rhetoric of "twenty minute cities" a practical possibility.

What is the likelihood of any of this coming together in a comprehensive plan? Practically none. Ambition this lofty in political terms always ends up in flames. But I will say that my Outer Orbital line runs very conspicuously through a slew of Eastern suburbs marginal electorates. A party that went to the people with a policy to radically improve the amenity of  and indeed completely reconceive transportation in the suburbs would have a very solid platform for election. And we know this geographic zone is the precise place where Victorian elections are won and lost.

But of course this is all going to cost an absolute motza. I would propose all this in the context of a willingness on behalf of the State Government to commit the requisite resources to the plan as an wholistic thing. Cherry picking preferred projects from a plan like this also devoids it of the systemic benefits that are its entire rationale.

So, to do this, a government would need to go to the people with a plan to borrow tens of billions of dollars annually to deliver it. In a manner the Japanese and Europeans wouldn't lose a second's sleep in committing to. In a manner that the present government HAS recently flagged a willingness to countenance.

You might point to the public finance issues in both Japan and Europe, but I'd point to Germany and most of Europe being basically OK in deficit terms, and the PIGS in fact being such a tiny set of exceptions they actually disprove a link between SENSIBLE debt-funded government investment and the deterioration of a government's financial position over the long run.

We could talk about the possibilities for PPPs here. We could talk about the possibilities for developing air rights around stations or under viaducts if we sought to build as large a component of the network extensions above ground as possible. Ultimately, costing this stuff is largely a finger in the air exercise. But I've tried to show my working below.

Again, I return to possible double decking options for suburban arterial roads as one means of  reducing the cost of doing this. I intend to produce a future post that will do a case study on how and where this could work.

A Metro to support London-esque density?
Returning briefly to one of my original premises, we can see how my plan significantly retrofits rail to the inner Melbourne area in a way that should enable better medium density development across the inner Melbourne region. "London-esque" might be a little ambitious here, given Melbourne starts from a long way behind in that regard. But in essence I have moved from this, representing the present day,

... to THIS ...

... as compared with London today ...

We should not of course be looking at a plan like this in isolation from the tram and bus network. Indeed, we probably shouldn't be too scornful of the work the bus network actually does, easy as that is to do in Melbourne transport planning. It carried over 118 million journeys in 2011, which is the most recent available data, at 17% year on year growth. That's more than half the number of journeys taken by train in 2013-14, a percentage that frankly surprised me.

I do, however believe the suburban bus network is woefully inadequate in terms of the effectiveness of its integration with other areas of the network - and that most particularly is an issue around basic timetabling and frequency. Buses, as I have said already do have a VERY SIGNIFICANT role to play in increasing the effective catchment areas of suburban stations, and accordingly you COULD achieve a large part of the intentions of this plan through improvements to the suburban bus network at a fraction of the cost, but I would also argue at a fraction of the effectiveness.

In fact this plan actually directly envisages, given how many of the Western suburbs blackspots are left for a mooted "Stage Four", plugging most of those gaps over the medium term through provision of improvements to both the bus and tram/light rail network. As we're doing MAJOR urban renewal at the Port of Melbourne, running serious light rail around Footscray road at least as far as Footscray itself is basically inevitable.

The point should also be made that proper planning in the Western suburbs can and should have us avoiding entirely the creation of these more hypothetical blackspots. I live in hope.

But the final task here is to look at how this would all be staged and what this would all cost, and I don't intend to cost out and compare these various contingencies. These costings are all so notional that would be a misguided exercise. You're not getting an assessable set of cost-benefits out of four meagre blog posts, where you can do a lot of this notionally in your own head.



Rail Improvements - Stage One

Upfield Extension
Depending on the level of duplication and track upgrades required here, it's only about two kilometers of track, so this is tens of millions at worst.

Alamein Extension
This is about 1.3kms of above ground, then 1.5 km tunnel to Chadstone, then double decking to Oakleigh. $2 bn

Glen Waverley Extension
As this is 15kms of tunnel, it's not going to come in much south of $10bn

New Branch Line via Monash  
This would invite a double-decking of Wellington rd to Rowville and a tunnel from there, but it's still about 10 kms of tunnel. $2bn to get to Rowville $8bn from there. This project could also be staged, with the section from Rowville to Ferntree Gully shifted to Rail Stage Two. 

Doncaster Rail via Newport
This is easily the most complex of the Stage One improvements, so probably invites a bit more of a breakdown:
  • The new Yarra bridge would be probably hundreds of millions
  • Cut and cover through Fishos could be done relatively cheaply assuming issues are resolved such as an available brownfields route would exist through the urban renewal zone. $20 million
  • Rail Tunnel to meet Metro rail $2bn
  • Road and rail Tunnel to Victoria Park/Freeway $6bn
  • Eleveated Rail most way to Doncaster $2bn
  • Tunnel to Doncaster 1.3 kms from the freeway $1bn
  • Doncaster to Ringwood rail Tunnel - one other double decking option would present itself here with the proposed tunnel route to Ringwood running parallel to the Eastern Freeway. But if this were a 10km tunnel, per the above, this would come in at around $8bn
So the ballpark for the total Doncaster rail improvements, including Fisherman's bend would be $20 bn.

The ballpark for stage one rail would be $42 bn.

Rail Improvements - Stage Two

Airport Line
Detailed costings were of course left out of the Bailleau government study, but based on the way the cost of Melburne Rail Link jumped when the airport was included, around $3bn is a pretty safe bet.

Outer Circle Stage One - Cheltenham to Templestowe
This stage would be prioritised as it addresses the majority of existing eastern sub urbs heavy rail blackspots. The northern section (stage two) does not traverse any blackspots. Without addressing any of the alternative technologies here, this is thirty kilometers of rail tunnel, and $100bn at a blush.

The ballpark for stage one rail would be $103 bn.

Rail Improvements - Stage Three

Outer Circle Stage Two - Templestowe to Airport
This is around 21kms of tunnel, so let's go with $80bn

Road Extensions

Western Distributor
Proposed at no cost to the taxpayer through Transurban.

Second River Crossing
As we've costed the bridge above, this is the cost of the tunnel to Geeong Rd and connections to the existing West Gate Freeway. $5bn for the tunnel, $6bn total. Tolls would be something I'd encourage here. In fact tolling the existing West Gate again as well. In fact tolling all the roads ...

Alternative East-West Link
Let's go with roughly the same cost as East-West link, but allow for the fact this only requires one tunnel. Not the complex messing around with City Link and linking it to the docks. So $15bn down to $10bn down to maybe $8bn allowing for synergies from building along with the rail tunnel for most of the route. Costs would be recouped by tolls (and I believe the cost-benefit for this WOULD be positive because you were solving the Punt Road problem too) and through PPP type arrangements.

M80-Eastlink Connector
Priority would be given to the inner-city road network improvements, as even by VicRoads' assessment, the need for the M80 Connector is still emergent rather than latent. So this would be a "Stage Two" road. Greg Hunt has costed this at $6 bn. It would be more like $10bn to include a rail tunnel within this.

The ballpark for all road improvements would be $26 bn. About the right proportion, methinks.

Unstaged Plans

Relocation of the Port of Melbourne
Along with associated rail yards and sale of the land for  urban renewal.
Uncosted - possibly revenue neutral

Creation of TWO new Ports at Geelong/Bay West AND Hastings
I'll also leave these uncosted, as this investment is to a large extent already planned and required because of looming capacity issues at the present site. So I'm building larger Ports elsewhere, and that WOULD significantly increase the expense of this project. But once again, what are the opportunity costs to the whole of Melbourne from NOT undertaking this investment, NOT getting significantly more freight on to rail, NOT having the ability to accomodate half a million people in a brand new suburb RIGHT NEXT to your existing CBD RIGHT on an existing train line?

I believe ALL these costs are not just significant, but major. I believe this proposal actually provides a therefore cost-effective solution to some of Melbourne's most significant and pressing urban development issues.


In upshot, I'm saying all this could be done for a mere $250bn. So, I'm putting a plate around, we should have this easily. Or rather, put a few bonds around. And if you believe in the arguments about what economic benefits transforming existing transport patterns can deliver, annualise the expense appropriately, I think a genuinely competitive cost-benefit would at least theoretically be capable of being produced around all of this.

But toss all this around in your own mind. Insert the costs of alternative methodologies, and I'd love to hear what you came up with by way of alternatives. What I'd really like all this to start is some genuinely blue-sky thinking in terms of what transport policy, coupled with very significant investment can do to give us a competitive advantage in the increasingly competitive global marketplace that urban centers increasingly find themselves competing within.

GO! Break it all wide open.

The Wombat.