'Melbourne's poor orbital connectivity is constraining the economic potential of Victoria'

'Melbourne's poor orbital connectivity is constraining the economic potential of Victoria'
'Melbourne's poor orbital connectivity is constraining the economic potential of Victoria'

...so says the first problem on the North East Link's investment logic map.

According to the business case documents released for the North East Link over the weekend, each problem outlined has a weighting with the lack of orbital connectivity scoring 40%; the other two problems, inefficient freight movements between north & south-east and congestion and heavy vehicles on local roads, are weighted at 35% and 25% respectively.

The investment logic continues - economic growth and increase economic opportunity for households in the north-east are listed as two benefits that are shared between two problems.  The stated strategic response is to increase the capacity of the transport network which in turn flows through to a 'provide additional infrastructure' action.

At the end of the logic chain 'construct a new motorway link, upgrade existing arterial roads and motorways, upgrade pedestrian and cycling links and PT improvements' are all listed as assets (outcomes).

The North East Link will bridge the gap between the Eastern Freeway and Metropolitan Ring Road ('construct new motorway link'), add more lanes to the Eastern Freeway between the link & Springvale Road ('upgrade existing arterial roads and motorways'), create more pedestrians and cycling links and will introduce a new busway for Doncaster ('PT Improvements').

'Melbourne's poor orbital connectivity is constraining the economic potential of Victoria'
Investment logic map from the North East Link business case

In the options assessment, we come across a phrase that doesn't get a run all that often, "while Melbourne has strong radial connections that support access to the central city, other trips are not as well-served by the transport network".

It goes on to describe the lack of transport network connectivity between the north and eastern/south-eastern regions of Melbourne only through the lens of mega-road projects when it could just as easily apply to the lack of orbital connectivity on the Public Transport network or the complete lack of action on the port rail shuttles programme.

"The north east’s location between two urban growth corridors and between the major cross-city connections of the M80 and the Eastern Freeway – along with the lack of a freeway-standard orbital connection in this part of the city – means that the region’s arterial road network is used for freight and commuter trips across Melbourne."

The business case finds the North East Link will 'give workers in Melbourne's north-east access to 56,000 new job opportunities and deliver $12.5 billion in Gross State Product to our economy'.  It's a pity the state government hasn't looked at this kind of study for orbital rail lines, especially through the eastern arc from Heidelberg to Monash via Doncaster and Box Hill.

'Melbourne's poor orbital connectivity is constraining the economic potential of Victoria'
Job clusters in metropolitan Melbourne, map from the North East Link business case

In a nod to the previous East-West Link argument that Melbourne needed alternative cross-town road connection, the North East Link's business case acknowledges the three broad types of trips that use the existing M1 (Monash/West Gate/Citylink) corridor: radial trips from the east and west, trips from the south-east to the airport and trips from the south-east to the Hume Freeway/interstate journeys.

The North East Link would increasingly cater for the south-east to airport and interstate journeys when built, the business case says.

The Andrews Government are running with the North East Link all the way to the state election in November, as the likelihood of another community backlash on the same scale as the one prior to the last state election on the East-West Link is unlikely to eventuate, the only way this project would not proceed looks set to be determined by voters on November 24th.

Despite more voices calling for the Australian government to change their wayward city and infrastructure development ways, the logic, and furthermore in the context of our road building extravaganza of the past five decades, of completing the ring road makes sense.  Leaving something unfinished - an entire orbital road network for instance - would hang around a political party's neck like a noose for a very long time.

There's no doubt there'll be a significant uplift in transport network capacity, journey times shortening, auto-centric businesses will flourish with the opening of the North East Link.  But it will be temporary - we know that will be case based on our own experiences of freeway upgrades and we know it will be the case because of ongoing high population growth.   

It's one thing to complete a road network for the easy distribution of freight and cars by road to and from the north and south-east, but when our city's set to grow by another 3 million people over the coming decades, there comes a point where we have to say, like many other cities with greater populations than us, enough of the business-as-usual way of doing things.

If orbital connectivity is worth so much to the potential of the Victorian economy, presumably because so much of the state's economic activity is located within metropolitan Melbourne, then it stands to reason we can't just only have road connectivity, but orbital rail connectivity as well.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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North East Link Melbourne Transport Planning

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