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10,000 Maniacs - The Battle Of The Tunnels

Australians love a good rivalry.  Holden vs Ford, Carlton vs Collingwood, NSW vs Queensland, Keating vs Hewson.  We are currently witnessing one of the greatest rivalries of all - Australia vs England in the Ashes. There's something about them that makes for riveting viewing, that captures our imagination even if we have no connection or love for any of the combatants.  

We crave the blood, sweat and tears oozed by the competitors, the mental disintegration of the weaker party, the killer blow that renders the loser to a lifetime of missed opportunity and regret, the winner an abundance of fame and adulation, whether they are worthy or not.  And so, coming to a TV near you, we have the latest installment - The battle of the tunnels.

We are all familiar with the tunnel in the blue corner - the much vaunted East-West Tunnel.  Sporting bling worth a reputed $8 Billion, its brashness and arrogance would put a LA gangster to shame.  It has also shown a ruthlessness not to be proud of, boasting of a desire to knock out defenseless houses and parkland without an inch of remorse or regret.  A worthy foe to be greatly feared, if not respected, it has spent the last 6 months or so dancing around the ring, arms akimbo, Rose Tattoo's 'We can't be beaten' blaring from the PA system, waiting for its opponent to enter the arena.  And a few weeks ago, with bated breath, it finally arrived...

And so, in the red corner, we have the opponent who, despite many stories of its existence, had many people questioning whether it was all just a myth.  Promising to be the Messiah of a rail system bursting at the seams, the Saviour of the outer burbs.  Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a rousing cheer to everybody's favourite project - The Melbourne Metro Tunnel!  

Now every fighter has an entourage, but the MM tunnel has an impressive one - 10,000 will be on the red corner's payroll, barracking at the top of their voices, baying for the EW Tunnel's blood, giving rise to the red team's name - Project 10,000.  With an army of support staff also doing their best to ensure the EW Tunnel never even gets in the ring, the odds look increasingly healthy, with the latest poll showing a whopping 73% of Victorian supporting the upgrade of public transport.  So whilst red team captain, Daniel Andrews looks set to win the battle, is it enough to win the war - ie the 2014 state election?

Ted Ballieu unexpectedly won the 2010 poll on the back of promising to fix our public transport system.  So after two years of diddly daddling where no major projects got off the ground (Labor legacy project the RRL aside), new Premier Dennis Napthine, in a desperate attempt to look like he was doing something, decided to build a road.  Costed at $8 billion, it created immediate fury from local residents when it was revealed that many houses would be compulsorily acquired, along with much parkland lost.  Seemingly handed a free kick, Daniel Andrews reaction was?

Nothing.  Tumbleweed bounced down the corridors of the opposition offices at Spring St, much to the chagrin of the many protest groups.  It was then revealed that the much vaunted business case contained a BCR that had inexplicitly jumped from Rod Eddington's original number of 0.5 to a whopping 1.5.  Problem is no one has actually seen it - its existence is about as mythical as a unicorn running through a field of four-leaf clovers on February 29th.  Yet still Daniel Andrews remained silent as anger turned to bewilderment whilst people started to wonder if Labor was actually going to support it.  With no other alternatives, and just like the ugly girl/guy at the pub who starts to look good after 13 beers, even the Greens overly ambitious plans started to look appealing!

After what seemed like an eternity, Andrews uttered the words everyone was waiting to hear - "The tunnel's a dud"!  Promising an alternative 'balanced' transport plan, it finally arrive in late October in the form of 'Project 10,000', and carries the follwing features:

1 - Remove Melbourne's 50 worst level crossings

The piece de resistance of the manifesto is the idea to remove 50 level crossings.  Sydney has 5 - Melbourne has almost 300, Victoria has over 1800!  Whilst many would agree with this approach on the basis of freeing up traffic, the benefits are far greater.  Level crossings force trains to slow down, and most importantly, the removal of level crossings saves lives.  Any perceived traffic relief is just a bonus.  Whilst grade separation has historically been expensive (> $100,000 each), doing multiple separations located in the same vicinity together should provide some economies of scale.  A big tick for this initiative.

2 - Get 5,000 trucks a day off the West Gate Bridge

Napthine's plan to tackle this was to build a new freeway, except he was going to build the half that went no where near the West.  Labour's plan is to implement what the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group have been pushing for many years - off ramps from the Westgate Freeway onto Hyde St.  Not only will this provide an extra entry/exit from the freeway, it will eliminate the need for trucks to use Williamstown Rd/Francis St, a route that runs through suburban streets and cause much noise, pollution and risk to pedestrians. Essentially a good solution that will cost a fraction of what Westlink would, it will also have a much smaller gestation period to completion.  A big tick again.

3 - Build Melbourne Metro Rail

Hooray!  Just when everyone feared this would be consigned to the scrap heap that contains projects such as the original Australia 108 tower or Parliament's intended dome, Labor has pledged $300,000 in order to get this project going.  A step forward forward from the current government who won't even submit all the details to Infrastructure Australia, the downside is that it still won't be built for a decade.  In a day and age when one term governments are a real possibility, the Labor Party would be foolhardy indeed to assume they would have years to realise their dream if they won office in 2014.  Nonetheless it's great to see they support this desperately needed piece of infrastructure, but a braver approach may be needed.

4 - Guarantee $2 billion for country and suburban roads 

Uh oh, this is where it gets a little wobbly. The main reason we are in this transport dilemma is because the obsession we had with building freeways.  Even current transport minister Terry Mulder once quipped that 'You can't drive your way out of congestion', before he did a back flip Nadia Comaneci would be proud of.  After chastising The Liberals for throwing all their eggs in the one basket with East West tunnel, it seems Labor are somewhat overcompensating by including the upgrade of roads in order to seemed balanced.  Adding extra lanes to the Tullamarine freeway and Hoddle St would all be well and good if it involved dedicated bus lanes rather just allowing more cars and giving the false hope of traffic decongestion.  Unfortunately it's a cross here.

5 - Create 10,000 construction jobs

Wham!  Its the old left jab/right hook one/two punch - a transport plan and a jobs plan!  Whilst Napthine says the Unions support of his tunnel is vindication, that's nothing more than a self fulfilling prophecy.  The current government's complete lack of ability to get any major projects up has made the unions so anxious that they'd agree to build a hole and fill it back on again if it meant the prospect of work in the short term.  The difference here is that when the East West tunnel is finished, so are the jobs. However a piece of infrastructure such as the Melbourne Metro requires much ongoing maintenance to run, so will be a gift that keeps on giving.  So a points decision to Labor's plan here.

Whilst Project 10,000 is a definite step in the right direction, is it the killer punch that will prevent their opponents from getting off the canvas? Daniel Andrews has promised there is more to come. Suffice to say we wait with bated breath. Right now they have Dennis Napthine staggering around the ring punch drunk.  Only a knockout blow will do come November 2014. Ding ding ding - Round 2 begins whilst the public watches intently with great expectations.

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