In my earlier work on traffic congestion in Melbourne I was surprised to learn that the intersection between Springvale Road and the Whitehorse Road at Nunawading was judged by sampled RACV members to be the worst traffic-congested part of Melbourne. The interesting thing is that this intersection is a long way from Melbourne's CBD. It is on a major artery from the city but very distant from the city itself. It is an instance of severe congestion in a suburb distant from the city centre.
The Treasurer today announced the conditional provision of $80 million to resolve this bottleneck. In my view this might be a waste of money that reflects a misconception about the nature of congestion in Melbourne. I am also suspicious of the fact that the offer comes on the eve of a federal election and that this area is the marginal Liberal seat of Deakin.
Travel to and from the city of Melbourne is reasonably simple because of public transport options and a system of radial roads that take one into the city. There is congestion where these roads converge and sometimes congestion on the major highways themselves. However the bulk of the congestion at the Nunawading intersection reflects cross town traffic heading roughly north-south - even on weekends the levels of such traffic are huge. This is a particular instance of the fact that most road journeys in Melbourne are cross-town journeys not radially directed to the centre of the city but the road system is primarily radial in design.
Springvale Road is currently the main way such north-south journeys are achieved suffers from the numerous large roads that cross it stemming from the distant city. This road is congested seven days a week and traffic does bank at the various cross road intersections from Whitehouse Road through to Springvale.
The difficulty is that easing one north-south intersection - whether it be by means of tunnels under the railway or by running the railway over the road - will simply move traffic more quickly to the next intersection. It will be very expensive but I cannot see that it will greatly help in easing congestion. Certainly radial traffic flows will be improved but that is not the problem.
The new Mitcham-Frankston Road - opening in 2008 - will take some pressure off this intersection and this needs to be accounted for in thinking of overall solutions. I am skeptical of expensive solutions that address immediately locally congested areas but which do not link up with broader plans for improving transport flows in our city. We need road pricing and we need improved public transport.