Road To Nowhere: Victorian ALP’s Newest White Elephant

FRESHLY RESTORED to a position from which to resume its abject waste of taxpayer money, exhibit #101 from the Victorian ALP is the poorly contrived, so-called West Gate Distributor that formed part of its “alternative” to the East West Link, designed partly as a sop to the Greens and partly to try to ward them off in inner-city Labor seats. The road looks like what it is: a waste of money that will cause more problems than it purports to solve.

This morning’s post is on a more localised issue to get us going again after Christmas, and I trust everyone had a nice day yesterday wherever they spent it; the aggregated effect of a series of short nights’ sleep had its inevitable impact on me last night in the form of a very uncharacteristic 11 hours dead to the world: so much for the prospect of an article last night! In any case, here we are.

I particularly wanted to cover off on this today, having seen a report in the Herald Sun over my coffee earlier, and this is one of those times you don’t need to live in Melbourne (or know your way around it) to see that whatever else might be said of the ALP or its election win four weeks ago, it has managed to get away with selling Victorian voters an absolute lemon.

(UPDATED, 3.20pm: It seems new Premier Daniel Andrews — or “Dan” or whatever else he calls himself today — has been stung by criticism of Labor’s cack-brained truck road, with a defence of it now appearing in the same newspapers that saw fit to rubbish it earlier. His words on its behalf fail to justify it any further than the merits of the plan do at face value. And that, succinctly put, is not very far at all).

It seems that as the party with a completely hopeless track record of delivering major projects — think the broken promises of the 1999 and 2002 elections to build the Scoresby Freeway as just that, with Eastlink carrying a toll for the next 30 years; the absolute debacles of myki and the Wonthaggi desalination plant that were late and over budget and a cost to taxpayers in the tens of billions of dollars; or the $750 million wasted on the North-South Pipeline that is unlikely to ever deliver a drop of water — Labor has wasted little time getting back to business with its West Gate Distributor.

Its purported cost of $500 million — factored against state Labor’s record in government between 1999 and 2010 — should see Victorians out of pocket to the tune of at least $2 billion by the time its newest monetary mess has been fully made.

I must confess that today is the first time I have seen the proposed route for this abomination of a road project: and readers will quickly see that the flaws are immediately clear, although there are a few other considerations that may not be quite so readily obvious.

ROAD TO NOWHERE…the West Gate Distributor is an expensive fraud that should not be built. (Picture: Herald Sun)


So blinded, it seems, has Labor been by the political imperative to sandbag its inner Melbourne seats of Richmond, Northcote, Brunswick and Melbourne — the last of which was lost to the Communist Party Greens anyway — that it has been prepared to foist virtually any nonsense imaginable on what is perceives to be a gullible voting public under the auspices of “a solution” which is designed solely around its own interests, with nothing more than a one-fingered salute to any genuine consideration of the best interests of Melbourne and its future growth.

To be honest, my five-year-old daughter could have come up with this plan with a packet of felt tips and a sketch pad.

At face value, the concept of diverting trucks around the West Gate Bridge is not completely lacking in merit.

But as readers will note, this half-baked plan doesn’t even see the proposed road form a complete loop: it ends, literally, nowhere, failing to link up at the northern end with (what I think off the top of my head is) Fitzgerald Road in Laverton.

The road runs through suburbs including Yarraville, Spotswood and Seddon in other safe Labor electorates south of the Yarra, and if I was a voter in the seats of Williamstown or Altona, I’d be pretty angry that the ALP had sold me out in favour of its trendy inner-city territory in the Greens-leaning latte belt.

There is already more than enough angst over the volume of heavy traffic through suburbs surrounding the industrial areas in Melbourne’s south-west without wilfully diverting 5,000 extra trucks per day through them, but never mind that. At the minimum, this could add an interesting electoral dynamic to the contest in those seats in 2018, especially in rapidly gentrifying Williamstown.

The road is to be subjected to tolls — at least, for once, Labor was upfront about that — but if the precedent of CityLink 15 years earlier has proven anything, it’s that truck drivers will go to inordinate lengths to avoid paying them.

Certainly, in some cases they have been unavoidable, such as in the tunnels that join the West Gate and Monash Freeways. But where there is a rat run to be found, no matter how obscure, a large number of truck drivers will use it: and that means even more heavy traffic through suburban streets in the electorates Labor has arrogantly assumed it will hold forever, and which it has clearly accorded second-tier status to below its prized inner-urban real estate in the inner north.

The six local councils affected by this road in Melbourne’s inner west are lined up against it.

The RACV is lined up against it.

And it seems rather self-evident that even if the West Gate Distributor succeeds in removing trucks from the West Gate Bridge — a dubious proposition indeed — all it will achieve is to create absolute chaos at the road interchange at the bridge’s southern end (and halfway around the Western Ring Road, too, if it ever occurs to anyone that it should at least rejoin the freeway in the north which, judging from the current plans, it hasn’t).

It is true that during Labor’s last period in office in Victoria under Steve Bracks and John Brumby it did not plunge the state into the ruinous financial abyss that its forbears in John Cain and Joan Kirner did in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It is also true that the reason for this was largely the regime of stifling and punitive increases in taxes, charges, fees and penalties it inflicted on the state’s residents that continue today.

But its inclination toward the sheer waste and misuse of public money remains undimmed, and this project is early proof of it.

In the end, Victoria’s new government seems content for the rest of Melbourne to grind to a gridlocked halt whilst it pursues its latest misadventure in major projects in the city’s south-west.

And this means that aside from the transport benefits and congestive relief the abandoned East-West Link would have delivered that at best will now have to wait for another change of government, Victorians are likely to suffer the double whammy of pouring additional billions of dollars into the state’s coffers to subsidise the Andrews government’s exploits.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Labor — in all its ugly glory — is back in charge in the Garden State.