Councillors prepare for battle on Western Distributor

Melbourne councillors are finding voice to discredit the proposed Western Distributor road project.

At their meeting on May 17, councillors were scathing in their assessment of the damage the road would inflict on the city.

They were also upset that their officers found at least five things to like about the project.

Transport chair Cathy Oke said the project had no benefits at all.

“The impacts to the City of Melbourne are huge and this project is somewhat ridiculous,” Cr Oke said.  “We’re not seeking to have more cars coming into the City of Melbourne at all.  I can’t see how this project aligns with what we are seeking to achieve.”

Cr Rohan Leppert noted that the council and the state government were diametrically opposed in their positions.

“By my reading, our strategy calls for a decrease in car trips by 160,000 by 2030 and the Western Distributor plans for an increase in car trips to the CBD from Footscray and Dynon roads alone of 30,000,” Cr Leppert said.

Councillors were debating how to respond to a council-management prepared document which concluded: “The main anticipated effects are the potential negative impact on land through the creation of demand for car parking and storage in the central city; on public amenity and safety due to increased numbers of cars in the city, particularly in streets and areas not designed to absorb the increased traffic and where there are significant numbers of vulnerable road users; greater traffic noise; air pollution; potentially undermining conditions for walking, cycling and public transport and possible impacts on the public realm such as trees.”

Cr Arron Wood said:  “At first glance, having a huge freeway project coming into the doorstep of the world’s most liveable city isn’t looking good for us so far.”

He said he looked forward to officers speaking with the government and Transurban about ways to best mitigate the effects on the project.

Cr Wood acknowledged the desire to remove trucks from local roads in the western suburbs, but said the issue should be considered a freight problem.

“It should be solved as a freight issue and not cobbling together another freeway which essentially dumps a whole heap of traffic on the doorstep of Melbourne.”

Cr Ken Ong advocated not speaking with the government at all.

“Our transport policy is totally ignored by the project,” he said.  “This opportunistic proposal by Transurban on a West-East approach only benefits Transurban.  It actually doesn’t benefit the city at all.”

“Why should we work with a government on a project that’s not even a stated policy before the last elections?  It’s a terrible project. It’s got all these negatives, but we want to work with them to get a better outcome? A better outcome for the city will probably not be a better outcome for Transurban.  So what do you think is going to happen?  We’ll be pissing in the wind.”

“In my view, we should tell the government ‘sorry, we don’t actually support this and we just don’t want to work with you’.”

Cr Wood and Cr Jackie Watts both said the council had been in a similar position with the ill-fated East West Link proposal.

“We do feel like we’ve been down this path before with a certain other road. And we do advocate strongly that public transport is the best way to move mass commuters around,” Cr Wood said.

“If you make it easier and quicker for people to drive their cars, then people will drive their cars.”

Cr Oke said: “While potentially I would have preferred to reject is outright, I understand that this is management’s report.”

“This won’t be the last that we hear of this matter at council,” she predicted.

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