Road congestion is arguably one of the greatest enemies of transport workers and operators, particularly heavy vehicle and delivery drivers with deadlines to adhere to and customers to service in our larger cities around Australia.
Lockdown restrictions during COVID in Melbourne and elsewhere around the country provided significant relief with road traffic down by as much as 90 per cent in some areas, and curfews on many roads lifted to enable depleted grocery store shelves to be filled faster.
But as our cities have started to return to a new normal and people start to venture out of their home offices and back onto the roads, congestion has reared its ugly head once again to play havoc with productivity and put pressure on supply chains.
The economic impacts of congestion – and its associated implications for operators and drivers alike – are one of the main reasons the VTA and other industry groups advocate as passionately as we do for legislators and regulators to come up with new ways to ease traffic and keep our transport networks moving.
According to Infrastructure Australia, road congestion and crowding on public transport cost our economy $19.8 billion in 2016, and that without continued investment this cost will more than double in just 10 years to reach $39.8 billion in 2021.
In Victoria, Infrastructure Victoria is tasked with advising the state government on the infrastructure requirements needed to service a growing population, including roads, railways, bridges, public transport, schools, energy grids, waterways and other essential public and private infrastructure.
Infrastructure Victoria’s latest 30-year draft plan has made several recommendations that the VTA has endorsed to ease congestion on the state’s transportation networks to support the productivity and sustainability of hundreds of freight and logistics operators.
The plan outlines several recommendations to further incentivise public transport uptake by regional and city commuters, whilst continuing to expand Victoria’s road and rail network to make the movement of people and freight even more seamless.
Key recommendations include reconfiguration of the City Loop for more cross city train services, lower charges for trams and buses to reduce pressure on roads and commuter rail, new tram routes to boost capacity in inner Melbourne and decrease road commuters, connecting the Eastern Freeway with CityLink within 30 years, and new tram services to Fishermans Bend, Arden and Maribyrnong.
This draft report recognises that notwithstanding short-term negative growth because of coronavirus, Melbourne is still on track to become Australia’s most populous city within a matter of years.
It rightly calls out the need for incentivising city commuters to use public transport because existing road and rail freight networks will be crippled by higher populations if steps aren’t immediately taken to ease congestion. So, we welcome measures to reduce the cost of public transport and increase capacity to free up the road and rail networks for moving freight.
In endorsing new tram and light rail networks into Fishermans Bend – an area adjacent to the Port of Melbourne that is transitioning from a historically industrial precinct into a residential community with 88,000 new medium and high density dwellings – we renew our caution that Lorimer Street be preserved for freight, as the only gazetted route for heavy vehicles to travel in and out of the port.
Planners must also strike a sensible balance for introducing new bicycle routes and ensure there is a clear delineation between heavy vehicles and bikes.
The VTA also welcomed the report’s recommendation for an East-West Link style connection between CityLink and the Eastern Freeway. We have always supported construction of this contentious missing link between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink, which will become even more pressing after North-East Link is built.
It is also notable that the report advocated earmarking land now for future freight terminals and corridors for a future outer ring road, which will be essential through Melbourne and Victoria’s next phase of growth.