Does the RACV truly think long term?

Click for detailed map (slow to download)

The Age published details on Monday of what it says is a leaked Vicroads “plan for hundreds of kilometres of new freeways”.

The “plan” is actually just a map showing how Melbourne’s road network might look in 2040. Vicroads isn’t conceding that it prepared the map but it isn’t denying it either. Most of the projects are already shown on the Melway or are well known – only the outer, outer ring road and two Geelong roads seem genuinely new.

There is a heap of negative comment on The Age site. The most interesting comment however is a quote in The Age from an RACV spokesperson who says the map represents the sort of ”truly long-term thinking” needed if the city’s road system is to cope with predictions that Melbourne’s population will grow to 7 million by 2049.

I have no issue with the need to think about road transport well into the future. As I’ve pointed out before, even the most optimistic long term public transport plans envisage that the majority of travel will still be by car. While the car’s mode share is likely to decline, the absolute level of car travel – in green cars – is nevertheless highly like to increase.

But I beg to differ with an RACV spokesperson who is quoted as saying that this road plan constitutes “truly long term thinking” about the road system. I don’t see how the efficiency, sustainability and capacity of the road system as depicted in this wish-list can be assessed without having information on a host of other variables that will affect the use of road space in the future.

Vicroads 1969 freeway plan

Demand will depend, for example, on many factors related to public transport, such as the level of investment in new services and how trips are priced. It will depend on land use policy relating to issues like the density of population and employment, the extent of urban sprawl and whether or not satellite cities are thrown into the policy mix.

Even in relation to more obviously road-related matters, the required capacity of the road system will depend on how road space is priced, especially in congested periods and whether or not it is financed by tolls. And then there are various capital works that can increase capacity without the need for new roads, like reducing the number of level crossings. The availability of clean power sources for vehicles will also be a critical determinant of how sustainable this, or any other “plan”, is.

I appreciate that Vicroads is a road agency and hence has a restricted charter, but any endorsement of this “plan” by other parties without considering the wider context is pretty shallow.

The “plan” itself is so obviously a financially and politically unrealistic wish-list that it should be given no credence. It looks like someone on work experience catalogued every idea anyone in Vicroads ever had!

I wonder if The Age of twenty years ago would have bothered to publish it at all, much less as the lead story on page 4. See this 1974 story in The Age on cut-backs to the official freeway program (H/T Daniel Bowen).

The Government has quite correctly distanced itself from the “plan”. The Age quotes a Government spokesman (don’t Ministers speak to the press anymore?): “VicRoads has not provided this highly speculative document to the government, but it’s not unusual that they would consider potential future needs in 30 or 40 years”.

Of course, there’s a much bigger question that this story raises – is there any case whatsoever for even one new freeway? Or should all new investment be solely in public transport and cycling? That sort of question is so fraught there’s bound to be all sorts of misinformed preconceptions – it’s right up the Melbourne Urbanist’s alley, so I’ll look at it shortly.

4 Comments on “Does the RACV truly think long term?”

  1. jack horner says:

    The author and any supporter of this ‘proposed 2040 road network’, whether it’s Vicroads, RACV or a work experience student, should be asked:

    – What is your goal for the long term future *functionality* (as distinct from physical appearance) of the transport network? eg what is your desired trend of things like transport modal split, car vehicle km per person?

    – How will the proposed roads support that goal? (include evidence based on history, not just wish statements)

    – What priority should the proposed roads have in context of other infrastructure or planning policies to support that goal?

    Any proponent who can’t answer these questions has no credibility.

    Note that ‘to solve traffic congestion’ is too vague to be a meaningful goal.

  2. Michael says:

    I wonder if these plans are drawn up with the assumption of a price on carbon or not? Is any serious modelling being done in vicroads regarding the effects of a price on carbon?

  3. Chris says:

    There’s an election soon and I think Vicroads may have just won a couple of seats for the Greens.

    The thing I found most interesting from the original piece was “RACV public policy manager Brian Negus… part of the team that wrote the 1969 plan”.

    A lot of people are paying the RACV for insurance or road side assist and unintentionally getting road lobbyists, for me that’s a good reason not to use their services.

    • Michael says:

      I’m afraid I have unwittingly fallen into this trap. I really should stop being a member of the RACV, since they are actively campaigning against my interests.

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