Container transporters in Melbourne are praying yesterday’s gridlock chaos in the Port of Melbourne precinct isn’t a sign of things to come over the next few months.
As the West Gate Tunnel Project (WGTP) enters a new phase of road closures, lane restrictions and heavy vehicle detours, Container Transport Alliance Australia director Neil Chambers said his members are paying a hefty price.
“Today (October 9), the whole of the Swanson Precinct was in gridlock,” Chambers said.
“At the eastern end, trucks could not exit Appleton Dock Road or via the new port road Intermodal Way due to the traffic congestion, leading to trucks not being able to exit Patrick’s East Swanson Terminal.”
“The western end of the Swanson Precinct also suffered as private vehicles mixed with trucks on Footscray Road, Intermodal Way, and Dock Link Road.”
“Perversely, it was probably fortunate that DP World West Swanson Terminal was closed to road operations due to protected industrial action, otherwise the congestion could have been even more severe.”
As it was, truck travel times from transport depots in Melbourne’s west doubled to well over two hours, said Chambers.
“Reportedly, it was taking over 45 minutes to travel from Whitehall Street to the west of the Swanson Precinct into the port’s facilities, with a similar level of delay being experienced from the east.”
Chambers said that despite constant communications between industry, the WGTP team, Transurban and the state government about these road closures, transport operators have been left wondering whether the congestion being experienced now is what they are likely to experience for several months until the road construction is finalised.
“If that is the case, landside efficiency and productivity at the Port of Melbourne will be severely compromised, ultimately to the detriment of importers and exporters, and consumers, in the peak season leading into Christmas,” he said.
Significant lane restrictions have been imposed (westbound and eastbound) on Footscray Road in the Swanson Precinct of the Port of Melbourne as the WGTP continues to complete overhead road structure works.
Also, the main access route for heavier road combinations between the Swanson Precinct/the west, and port facilities at Webb Dock to the south, Wurundjeri Way, is now closed until early December 2023, with a detour for heavy vehicles over 68.5 tonne gross vehicle mass becoming available via the Bolte Bridge.
Chambers said the flow-on impacts of the congestion include:
- Missed truck time slot appointments at the container terminals, and potential resulting financial penalties;
Import containers unable to be picked up and delivered, meaning wasted labour allocation by customers and the disappointment and financial impact of freight delays;
- Exports missing receival windows and added requests for late export receival. Ultimately this leads to exports not meeting vessel cut-off times and being left behind (“rolled” cargo), impacting on export contracts; and
- A significant blow-out in truck turnaround times.
It is a matter for individual transport operators and their customers as to whether any congestion surcharges are applied to compensate road transport operators for the delays.
“That’s not an easy conversation to have with your customers, and one that we hope can be avoided provided the West Gate Tunnel Project and the government take action to mitigate the congestion levels,” Chambers said.
“CTAA has been assured today that the government is putting in place additional measures to divert private vehicles away from Footscray Road, and to alter the traffic-light sequencing at a number of intersections to allow more trucks to pass per cycle.”
“However, it is clear to the container logistics industry that if the road congestion experienced today continues, then trade through the Port of Melbourne will be negatively impacted to a large degree in what is traditionally its most busy period of operations.”