Published 1 November 2014, The Courier, Ballarat
How many times have you been caught up in a traffic bottleneck on the West Gate Bridge? Or how about stuck on a train somewhere west of Melbourne going nowhere?
Our regional communities rely on access to the Victorian capital Melbourne and beyond by road via the West Gate Bridge and by train via our V/Line service for our business, social and recreational connections.
We live in a beautiful and highly liveable part of Australia. More and more people want to move here and with the population in our region set to increase by 54,000 to 223,500 by 2031 (source: DPCD, Victoria in Future 2012) and the associated increase in pressure on our road and rail infrastructure, we need long-term planning to future-proof our transport needs.
One of the biggest issues we face is that there is currently only one river crossing into Melbourne from the West. The potential for gridlock leads to unpredictable travel times and reduced confidence by business and families. The fragility of Melbourne’s access to the West was highlighted by the closure of the Domain Tunnel in 2013. Also a recent research report commissioned by Committee for Wyndham concluded that closure of the West Gate Bridge could cost the State $8.3 billion each year (source: West Gate Bridge Closure Cost Analysis, Macroplan Dimasi, 2013).
We continue to see increased rail patronage place strain on the Ballarat - Melbourne V/Line service. While we will start to see the benefits of a new and improved service when the Regional Rail Link is finished in April 2015, we still face significant issues that impact the reliability of our service such as a shortage of rolling stock and the regular cancellation of services during extreme temperatures due to signal failure.
An integrated transport strategy
Committee for Ballarat is advocating an integrated transport strategy that includes road, rail and ports.
We want major road and public transport projects that will relieve road and rail congestion.
We want long-term planning that will ensure the efficient movement of people and product across Victoria.
We want reliable access from regional Victoria to markets in Melbourne and other regional centres as well as to national and international markets via the ports and airports.
A second river crossing is desperately needed to improve travel times in the short-term and ensure reliable access in the long-term. We believe that the proposed Western Section of the East West Link proposed by the Napthine Government is vital infrastructure that will provide a much-needed alternate route to the West Gate Bridge and support Victoria’s growing freight task. This is particularly critical for Ballarat with $9.13 million committed in the 2014 Federal Budget for 16 hectare mulit-modal freight and logistics hub in the Ballarat West Employment Zone – strategically located because of its excellent access to roads, rail, ports and airports.
Further investment is also desperately needed to improve our rail service and our FastTrack Ballarat project team will continue to push for infrastructure planning that will result in a reliable and more frequent service and faster travel times. We welcome the $900 million announcement by the State Opposition for new rolling stock –20 new V/Locity carriages and 30 metro trains – to be built if Labor is elected.
The benefits for our regional communities
Improved economic connectivity, access, productivity and business opportunities will have a significant impact on the business sector. Rail users will benefit from a more reliable service. And families will enjoy better social and recreational connectivity as a result of shorter and more reliable travel times.
A call for strong leadership
Many of us can remember back to before the Deer Park Bypass was built and the significant traffic congestion we faced heading into Melbourne on every trip – this successful project shows clearly how the creation of key infrastructure stimulates rapid growth in access, business activity, employment and economic returns.
The West Gate Bridge has served us well over the past 35 years, providing a gateway from Western Victoria to Melbourne and beyond. However it is at capacity and we need an alternative. Our V/Line rail service is also at capacity and we need a more reliable and frequent service with faster travel times to serve our fast-growing population.
We believe that the future prosperity of our region will be founded on high-quality efficient transport links and we are calling for strong leadership and action by successive State Governments to plan ahead for transport infrastructure that will deliver a long-term solution and improve connectivity and productivity for our region.