Melbourne’s unprecedented population growth prompts huge infrastructure investment

The biggest transport infrastructure investment in Victoria’s history, the North East Link is actually three major projects in one.

A budget announcement from the Victorian state government in April 2018 confirmed the earmarking of $110 million to begin the process of detailed planning and design in order to create a blueprint for roadworks and tunnel boring for the North East Link. A further $3.12 million was set aside to put in place pedestrian crossings as well as various traffic flow measures that will become necessary as the work begins.

The North East Link, Victoria’s biggest ever transport infrastructure investment, has been referred to as ‘the missing link in Melbourne’s freeway network’. It is actually a combination of:

  • the North East Link – completing the ring road between the Eastern Freeway and the M80 Ring Road in order to connect Melbourne’s northern and south-eastern suburbs;
  • the Eastern Freeway upgrades – including new lanes, and technology that has the potential to improve trip times by 40 per cent; and
  • Doncaster Busway – a new busway with dedicated lanes along the Eastern Freeway from Doncaster towards the city.

The office of Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said, “The $16.5 billion North East Link will slash congestion across Melbourne’s north east, take thousands of trucks off local roads and create more than 10,000 new jobs during construction.”

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and a presenter at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference 2018, says it is vital to fix the travel time issue in our cities as the cities themselves become dysfunctional when commutes to and from work take too long.

“It’s increasingly dysfunctional because younger families are just falling apart,” he said.

“It’s like fly-in-fly-out every day. There’s a big social impact as well as economic impact.”

Newman is excited about the possibility of technology such as trackless trams – autonomous trams that are actually a series of electric buses in convoy, following sensors in the road.

The North East Link is not only about roads, but also about tunnels. In fact, once the project comes to a close it will have produced Victoria’s longest tunnels – three-lane, twin tunnels that travel for five kilometres under roads, residential areas and parklands.

(Image: Courtesy North East Link project video screen grab)

Other infrastructure included in the project includes new local roads, intersection reconfigurations and land bridges for communities adjacent to the North East Link and Eastern Freeway, new cycling and walking paths along those two freeways and the completion of the 100-kilometre continuous ring road cycling trail. New and upgraded noise barriers will be erected to ensure traffic noise standards are met, a Freeway Control Centre for managing all roadway operations will be constructed, and a focus will also be on high quality landscaping and urban design along the new routes.

The entire project has become necessary as a result of population growth in Melbourne that is unprecedented for any Australian city. Incredibly, in the 2015-16 financial year, close to 30 per cent of Australia’s population growth occurred in Melbourne, claims the business case for the North East Link project.

“If current trends persist, Melbourne will be a city of 8 million people by 2051, surpassing Sydney as Australia’s largest city by population and reaching a population as big as London and New York City today,” it said.

Most growth is predicted to occur in the outer suburbs, meaning transport corridors between outer suburbs and employment/education/retail etc centres – including road and rail – must evolve to meet the coming demand. Cities that do not provide such critical infrastructure risk negative social, economic and environmental consequences, as Newman pointed out.

Sir Rod Eddington, former Chairman of Infrastructure Australia, who will be interviewed by Newman at the Australian Engineering Conference 2018, agrees. Eddington, who has a particular passion for rail, says the liveability of our cities very much rests on smart transport infrastructure. This infrastructure is ‘smart’ because it enhances other transport networks. The North East Link, for example, will include major upgrades and additions for bus, bicycle and pedestrian networks as well as those utilised by cars.

“You need to think about infrastructure in the context of networks, not in the context of single pieces of the jigsaw,” Eddington said.

“When thinking about building another rail line, or another road, or another piece of the electricity grid, you need to consider what it means for the networks. Individual pieces of the network must work for one another.”

Learn more about the future of Australia’s transport infrastructure at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here

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