The Monash Freeway widening juggernaut rolls on, has anyone in government thought of alternatives?

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The Premier has announced stage 2 of the latest round of Monash Freeway widening will include thickening the road in the midsection of the road as well as widening the road as far as Cardinia Road.

Curiously, widening works will mean outbound lanes from Warrigal Road to Eastlink will go from 4 to 5 lanes but the inbound widening from 4 to 5 lanes will only occur from Eastlink to Springvale Road. 

The second half of the old Berwick bypass section will be widened from Clyde Road to Cardinia Road on the Pakenham bypass section of the road from 2 to 3 lanes in each direction as part of stage 2 which has now been submitted to Infrastructure Australia for approval. 

O'Shea Road, a collector in Berwick South will be duplicated and extended to the Beaconsfield interchange as well.

It is well documented that Victoria (and Australia for that matter) does not have an effective demand management system or pricing regime on roads - every vehicle class pays the same level of registration and effectively the road network is a free-for-all when it comes to motorised travel - and therefore pressure is relentlessly piled on to expand major roads every 5-10 years thanks to induced demand and a growing outer south-east population.

Road planners clearly only see a need for road widening in the central part of the road, between Warrigal Road and the South Gippsland FWY interchange - the city end of the road is left untouched in this round of expansion.

With that in mind, if the perceived need is confined to such a focused area, why are we reaching for the road expansion political playbook and not looking at alternatives?

The central part of the Monash Freeway runs right through, you guessed it, the Monash employment and innovation cluster, the same area which the Victorian Planning Authority is working on a specialised structure land-use plan.

Even the most ardent public and active transport campaigners recognise roads can have productive non-commuting uses that just cannot be shifted to an alternative mode but in the context of no demand management policy, a significant amount of our road network at different times of the day is filled with single-occupant cars.

Emissions and space required for different forms of transport - image: Institute for Sensible Transport

We're yet to see the detail of the VPA's work on the Monash cluster and what it might look like over time, however, all signs are pointing to a greater concentration of employment uses in the area.  If you start with the mindset that most people are going to continue to drive to this area, the thickening of the Monash Freeway through the central portion of the road makes sense.

The other major arterial slicing through the region is, of course, the Pakenham/Cranbourne rail lines which are seeing enormous amounts of investment, as Spring Street would hasten to point out, however we're yet to see if the new Turn-Up-And-Go (TUAG) service the state government has been spruiking for the rail line after all the projects are complete will be useful for people who don't live or work in the centre of the city.

Sure, the Melbourne Metro Tunnel will connect the western suburbs and the south eastern suburbs with a one-seat journey and will facilitate growth in the west, however the eastern side of the metropolitan area is where the majority of Melbourne's population currently lives and therefore a lot of the heavy passenger lifting will be done on the eastern section of the new metro line.

The metro tunnel + level crossing removals + new High-Capacity Metro Train (HCMT) + new signalling & power infrastructure programme will unlock capacity in stages right up until the final one when the metro tunnel opens - with even more capacity on the horizon after the metro tunnel opens with a subsequent set of projects to lengthen platforms in order for 10 car trains to eventually run on the line.

But surely we can trial alternatives to never-ending freeway widening by rethinking rail feeder services?

There's scant talk of turning bus routes - whether existing or those that could be altered - into operations that compliment the TUAG nature of the new metro line. 

If passengers are forced to make two service changes in a single journey, such as bus-train-bus, the rule of thumb appears to be to shut down that kind of talk in Melbourne. 

Yet look at the new paradigm and the rail network - frequencies and passenger carrying capacity is going up - are we not about to enter into the best possible situation to at least trial a proper, high frequency rail and bus network in the middle and outer suburbs which we know are going to see more residential and employment growth?

Look at the success of bus routes when they are made more frequent (and focused) between Huntingdale station and Monash University - surely within the context of the Monash employment cluster framework, many more of these high-frequency & short bus routes will need to be deployed?  

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