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Ombudsman joins truck debate

Peter Anderson recalls the day two Green MPs came to see him in his office at the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) wanting a solution for removing trucks from Melbourne’s affluent inner-west streets.

That’s easy, the VTA CEO told them, get the residents to stop buying things.

Anderson’s point then, and remains today, is that the only solution to the ongoing issues the communities near the busy Port of Melbourne hub have with truck movements is for better management of the roads.

The trucks aren’t going away, even after the $6.7bn West Gate Tunnel is finished, a point that the Victorian Ombudsman is now investigating following allegations from Williamstown and Millers roads residents that the Andrews government has turned its back on them.

By 2031, government data shows the West Gate Tunnel will funnel more trucks onto these roads: Up to 2100 truck trips a day on a section of Williamstown Road and 7500 on Millers Road, which is more than a three-fold spike.

Anderson has already tried to broker a workable win-win for both sides.

After months of consultation with one of the many anti-truck advocates in the area, the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group, the Smart Freight Partnership was formed in 2019, a ground-breaking proposal that essentially meant the cleaner the trucks, the more access they would have.

Although there were still issues to iron out, it looked like it would be the answer for both sides, and Anderson even had the verbal go-ahead from the state transport minister.

But then inexplicably, he got a call out of the blue from a bureaucrat to say it was off and is still none the wiser to this day.

“The answer is to better manage the roads,” said Anderson, still hopeful of a resolution.

“Do things like installing a 24/7 curfew at the northern end of Williamstown Road, but not the southern end, not with the connector between the freeway and Francis Street.

“Put all the trucks leading into the port, from that side of town, that have been using Somerville Road, down Millers Road and have them all come out the northbound lane of Moore Street.

“This is a sensible solution, but they won’t listen to us.

“They say you can’t upset the people of Moore Street. Well I’m sorry, 21 houses on Moore Street are going to get upset because they’re going to have trucks driving past, but 3000 houses who can’t have trucks going past can have them?

“They’ve got to make decisions. But the answer isn’t to get trucks off the streets, it’s to better manage truck movements.”

Maribyrnong Truck Action Group president Martin Wurt said he plans to keep the pressure on the government for change.

“We want something that’s going to minimise trucks on these streets,” Wurt told 7News Melbourne.

“There will be winners and losers from the West Gate Tunnel Project and certainly some streets will be better off, but you shouldn’t spend $6.9bn and have a street get a doubling of truck numbers when it was inappropriate in the first place.”

A government spokeswoman said the department was engaging with the community and industry about improvements to transport in the inner-west.

The area would be prioritised as a ‘test-bed’ for clean energy truck technology trials, while the West Gate Tunnel project was overseeing ongoing air quality monitoring.

Ten million dollars in taxpayer-funded grants would also allow for new cycling and walking paths, parks, wetlands and planting of 17,000 trees in areas surrounding the road project.

“We’re working to minimise the impact of heavy vehicles by investing in a number of strategies to take trucks off local streets and encourage more freight onto rail,” a government spokeswoman said.

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