Monash Freeway upgrades: 9 minutes of short-term congestion relief

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Apparently, 9 minutes will be shaved off the time to travel from Pakenham and the City when the Monash Freeway expands, yet again.

“The [Monash] freeway will be widened between Warrigal Road and Eastlink and between Clyde Road and Cardinia Road, cutting an estimated nine minutes off a peak-hour trip between Pakenham and the city,” according to a joint federal and state government media release.

The language might resonate with some voters but there comes a point where you have to call out rubbish.

Pakenham has a population of just under 50,000.  It's no small fringe suburb by any stretch of the imagination, but it also has an even better way of travelling "to the city", it's called a train.

The Monash Freeway might give Pakenham-dwellers a traffic-light-free journey to the city (at very least, to Montague Street or Kings Way) but not everyone in Pakenham is travelling to the city, nor is everyone who lives in any suburb between Pakenham and inner Melbourne travelling to the city. 

Huge amounts of traffic enter and exit the freeway between the aforementioned endpoints every day so why the focus on the extreme fringe to the centre of the city?

Central Melbourne does not need more cars funnelled into it.  I repeat, central Melbourne does not need more cars.  It is the one place which is incredibly accessible via the public transport network from any point in the metropolitan area and the one place where space is at such a premium that there are far more worthy land-uses than car parking.

The language that governments use when describing mega-road projects is understandable and calibrated to address specific interests - if its a new road, there will be time travel benefits and an upgrade will most likely 'appear' to fix things. 

Time savings are easily digestible and resonate but in the case of making trips from the outer suburbs to the city faster, the problem that permeates elsewhere - people believe its best to drive to the city when there are good alternatives - and those alternatives, the train network at the very least, is seeing improvements at the same time.

The Pakenham and Cranbourne lines are seeing major upgrades - tomorrow, Monday the 18th, there will be no level crossing between Dandenong and the City which removes the train and car conflicts, station facilities have been rebuilt and over the medium term a new signalling system and new route will allow even more trains to run on the corridor.

There might be some travel time benefits - a few minutes here, a few minutes there - when the new fleet of trains takes over total operations on the Pakenham/Cranbourne line, ditto when the route is altered to only stop at the new ANZAC station before getting to Town Hall/Flinders Street, but there could be more.

If the Monash is getting an extra lane in each direction every 5-10 years, and now we're finally seeing a one or two generational leap in rail technology and operations on the Dandenong corridor, is it not time to deliver big travel time benefits for train users by adding more track and running permanent express services?

We've discussed many of the constraints of track expansion in Melbourne on urban.com.au before and at the city end it'll get expensive, but the East-West Link is expensive, the West Gate Tunnel is expensive, the North-East Link is expensive. 

Melbourne's South East is the only section of the metropolitan area that is set to continue greenfields development out to the growth boundary and will include two of the five National Employment and Innovation Clusters (Dandenong South and Monash) as well as continue to enjoy direct rail access to the major job cluster at the end of the Pakenham/Cranbourne line in the city.

Road projects seem to be at least partially justified because freight users require them - with employment set to concentrate in Monash in particular, don't the governments owe it to the future employees of central Melbourne, Monash and Dandenong to connect these areas with fast express train services?

Lead image credit: Wikipedia.

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