Pledge for local truck bans with West Gate Tunnel

Industry says advice ignored as Victorian government forces more costs on operators

Pledge for local truck bans with West Gate Tunnel
West Gate Tunnel Project announcement has left the industry deeply concerned


As the Victorian government crowed about its newly named West Gate Tunnel Project, the former Western Distributor, the trucking industry digested more cost increases and the crimping of its ability to transport goods in Melbourne.

The carrot of twin tunnels between the Westgate Freeway’s western West Gate Bridge approaches and the Port of Melbourne has been accompanied by the sticks of new forced tolls and the permanent banning of routes through Footscray.

It has not gone down well with Victorian Transport Association (VTA), which notes the industry is "already under financial attack from disproportionate CityLink toll increases, higher registration and user charges and razor thin operating margins", while Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) is calling for a ‘fair go’ on toll pricing for the link.  

"Freight operators already shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure, and today’s announcement forces them to use a road that has yet to be built, and whose user costs have yet to be established," VTA CEO Peter Anderson says.

"While we absolutely understand the need to strike a balance between amenity for residents and economic fairness for operators, a permanent ban is not the right way to go about it, and sends a message to operators that their contribution to society isn’t valued or appreciated."

Long the source of community confrontation with the trucking industry, the use of Francis Street and Somerville Road in Yarraville, and Buckley Street and Moore Street in Footscray is to be banned from 2022.

"The freight industry needs an efficient connection to the port – one that has been specially designed for heavy vehicles – not suburban streets," roads minister Luke Donnellan says.

The project will directly link the western freeway to the port with tunnels under Yarraville, "which will save truck drivers’ time and money by avoiding 17 sets of traffic lights and reducing vehicle wear and tear", the government says.

Hyde Street ramps will provide a direct connection from the West Gate Freeway to the existing fuel refineries.

"The project will directly link the West Gate Freeway to the Port with twin tunnels under Yarraville, which will save truck drivers time and money by avoiding 17 sets of traffic lights and reducing vehicle wear and tear," the government says.

Lost opportunity

While the government notes that there was industry consultation, it failed to say it took on board little if anything from the exercise.

"We presented the Government with a number of alternative ways to reduce truck movements on local streets without increasing costs to operators and the supply chain, and regrettably they were ignored," Anderson says, in what the VTA describes as "a lost opportunity to develop common sense, long-term solutions for balancing community amenity and economic prosperity".

"These included exempting modern vehicles that are quieter and more fuel efficient from curfews, improving the roads on preferred freight routes to make them safer, using technology to enforce restrictions, and a certification system allowing access only to sanctioned vehicles.

"We are also encouraging them to introduce toll reductions and multi-user discounts on existing and future toll roads as an incentive for operators to use toll roads. What is the point of having high-tech, efficient toll roads if operators can’t afford to use them?"

The announcement yesterday that a consortium headlined by John Holland and CPB Contractors has been selected to build the port link came a day after CityLink tolls for heavy vehicles increased by up to 125 per cent.

The toll-cost issue is also of continuing concern for the CTAA.

"The original Government business case called for Transurban to consider a reduced toll price for transport operators undertaking these shuttle operations, as well as suitable trip caps, and the favourable treatment of Higher Productivity Freight Vehicles," CTAA director Neil Chambers says.

"With the Government announcement that 24/7 truck bans will be applied to many inner western suburb roads once the West Gate Tunnel is completed, it is vital that the Government ensures that container transport operators receive a ‘fair go’ with the tolling structure and prices.

"The container transport task to and from the west of Melbourne comprises full import and export containers, as well as empty container movements.

"Indeed, the largest export commodity through the Port of Melbourne is empty containers being repatriated overseas by shipping lines where they can best be used for their next full cargo.

"The movement of empty containers is therefore a vital part of the landside logistics chain, but the cost pressures in doing so are high, so a high toll price would be unsustainable."  

That the ban is not complete was at the bottom of the announcement with the mention that it would "not include trucks with a local origin and destination".

"The use of the term "bans" is emotive, and some residents and others might not appreciate that such curfews do have exemptions." Chambers says.

"There are numerous container logistics chain facilities located on the roads earmarked for 24/7 curfews.

"Trucks must still be allowed to access these facilities."

More road woes

CTAA also wants the government to undertake a review of the adequacy of the arterial and local road infrastructure in the inner west that will be subject to more heavy vehicle traffic once the 24/7 truck curfews are implemented.

"For example, the local and arterial roads at the western end of Francis Street in Yarraville, such as Cemetery Road, and around Brooklyn leading to and from Millers Road onto the West Gate Freeway (M1), are in very poor condition, and are not conductive to good heavy vehicle operations," Chambers says.

"The same applies to some roads in the outer west of Melbourne where the road infrastructure has not kept pace with industrial development."

At the eastern end of the proposed West Gate Tunnel, the raised section of the project along Footscray Road does not connect directly to the Bolte Bridge for access to and from the new international container terminal at Webb Dock.

Instead, heavily laden trucks will be funnelled onto an expanded Wurundjeri Way, then will need to transit Lorimer Street and Todd Road to access Webb Dock.

"Unlike today where heavy vehicle container movements between Footscray Road and the Swanson Dock precinct of the Port and Webb Dock can be counted in the dozens per day, when the new Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) reaches higher throughput volumes – up to 1.2 million twenty foot equivalent units [TEU] on current design specifications – there will be hundreds of heavy trucks on that route – night and day," Chambers says.

"The government’s announcements about truck bans in the inner west have been as a result of intense political pressure from local residents and others in the west.

"How long before similar voter pressures are applied by residents of million dollar plus apartments in the Lorimer Street, Docklands area, or elsewhere in the proposed new Fishermans Bend urban redevelopment?

"What is the government doing to protect these vital freight corridors, or to find alternatives that better segregate freight movements from congested roads and residential developments?"

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