Should Melbourne Airport get special treatment in Infrastructure Victoria's 30 year strategy?

Should Melbourne Airport get special treatment in Infrastructure Victoria's 30 year strategy?
Alastair TaylorMarch 23, 2016

Comment

In case you missed it, Melbourne's Tullamarine airport has been a story of growth, growth and even more growth for the past decade. A story of growth in passenger numbers using the terminals and a story of projected growth in employment within the entire aviation precinct.

One of the FAQs on the airport's community & partners web page states "the airport's operations directly support 14,300 jobs, which is forecast to grow to 23,000 by 2033". Furthermore the FAQ goes on to state "more than two-thirds of these jobs are held by people living in communities around the airport".

According to official numbers published by the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, in 2006 Tullamarine airport saw 21,567,868 passengers through its terminals. In 2015 it was 32,989,094 passengers according to an airport media release published in January; or better represented as 53% growth over a decade.

As they say in the financial world, past performance is not necessarily an indicator of future return, however if the next decade's growth is even remotely similar to that of the past then there will be upwards of 45,000,000-50,000,000 passengers using Melbourne airport by the time the Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel is open for business. The airport expects there to be 60,000,000 passengers to be using the airport by 2030.

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Last year the $1.3 billion Citylink / Tullamarine Freeway widening project was announced which is set to add an extra traffic lane in each direction between the West Gate Freeway / Bolte Bridge interchange and Melbourne Airport.

Judging by the 6-7 year gap between widening projects on the Monash Freeway, it's likely the inducement effect of increased freeway capacity on the Tullamarine Freeway will have the road lobby squealing for another widening project in another decade, especially if the passenger and employment growth numbers projected at Melbourne airport actually come to fruition.

The centre of Melbourne - from a population and economic sense - is shifting westward and all the dry economic and planning commentary asking if a rail link to Melbourne Airport is worth it is moot as sometimes I think participants completely disregard the growth story at the airport and its surrounding employment precincts.

The Airport Drive extension was opened last year and thanks to a recent Google satellite map update over the entire metropolitan area, we can now clearly see the rapid change that's occurring in the 'landside business precinct' on the airport's land.

Of course, we are going to need a rail line to the airport. The relentless growth reported monthly by the Melbourne airport owner continually counters here-and-now static arguments about public transport mode shift and whether or not the skybus service can continue to cope (and current road works are likely to play havoc with reliability, ditto for the next future widening project).

The questions we should be asking:

  • How many stations should the airport rail link have? A station near Sharps Road and Airport Drive? A station near Keilor Park Drive / Avondale Heights?
  • How can we extend the route 59 tram to the airport to provide a high quality public transport service to the areas in the north west which are bypassed by the heavy rail line?
  • Which roads and freeways require widening to cater for bus lanes carrying high frequency smart bus-like routes servicing areas to the west (Watergardens, Hillside, Melton, Caroline Springs) and east (Broadmeadows, Greenvale, Somerton, Epping, Campbellfield) of the airport?

Tullamarine Airport may have been built on the city fringe in the 60s/70s and thanks to the forward planning that has limited suburban growth to the west and north of the region, the airport enjoys a curfew-free status that is a distinct advantage over many other Australian cities. Like the centre of the city, the Tullamarine area is undergoing rapid growth.

The airport rail line has appeared on PTV heavy rail network development maps as a branch line of the larger Sunbury-Pakenham/Cranbourne line that will be created once the Melbourne Metro Rail project comes online since 2012, however beyond it being present on a map, no timeline for its construction has been published and you can be forgiven for thinking we're looking at a typical waterfall scenario of development.

The Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel is penciled in for a 2026 completion date and can we really wait another 4-5 years beyond that date for a heavy rail line to finally service the airport given the huge growth passenger and employment projections for the area?

No, we can't. Infrastructure Victoria needs to treat the Melbourne airport region like another CBD.

The authority needs to give Melbourne airport priority in assessing the ground transport needs so that the Victorian government can start allocating budget money for holistic transport planning and money for kicking off the smaller-scale projects - like bus and tram extensions - that can make a dent in the nauseating car dependency in and around Melbourne airport before a heavy rail line comes online.

Lead image credit: Google Maps.

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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