A $5.5 billion tollway linking Melbourne’s west with the city is being rushed through without adequate detail or consultation, according to Hobsons Bay’s mayor.
Cr Peter Hemphill said the council was being forced to take a position on the Western Distributor project with too little information or time to make an informed decision.
The criticism follows the 4-3 vote by Maribyrnong councillors last week to offer in-principle support to Transurban’s project, provided a number of key conditions were met.
ALP councillors squeezed the motion through with the support of mayor Cameron McDonald. Independent councillors Grant Miles, Nam Quach and Catherine Cumming voted against the project, arguing it could increase heavy truck traffic on Footscray’s residential streets.
Cr Hemphill said the Western Distributor would impact residents, commuters, sports clubs and businesses, yet “a distinct lack of information” was being provided.
“The council is being placed in the ridiculous situation of having to make a decision on its preferred option by mid-June, but we still need a lot of information from Transurban and the government to protect our community’s interests,” he said.
“I don’t think we should be rushed to make a snap decision because detailed information is not being provided.”
Cr Hemphill said the project, which may include four-storey flyovers across the top of the existing West Gate Freeway, could have significant impacts on Spotswood, South Kingsville and Altona North residents as well as people travelling in and out of Williamstown and Newport in peak hours.
“Transurban kept everyone in the dark until mid-April and has not been as transparent as what they should to the local community about the impacts on them,” he said.
“We’ve been given four to five weeks to respond to a project that could have ramifications for the community for decades to come.”
Maribyrnong councillor Martin Zakharov said he was confident the project would deliver a good outcome for his municipality.
“Not all of us here in Melbourne will be gaining from it, but certainly the City of Maribyrnong will,” he said. Cr Zakharov’s colleagues had mixed responses to the distributor’s likely impacts:
Cr Michael Clarke said there is a lot of detail that needs to be worked through, however the project offers a way forward.
Cr Sarah Carter said the devil is always in the detail but the project follows a long-standing community campaign to remove trucks from local roads.
“It’s not the infrastructure alone that will solve the truck issues on our local roads… there are complementary measures needed.”
Cr Cameron McDonald said the distributor would link freeways and get trucks off roads, but the Hyde Street ramps needed to be on the Hobsons Bay side of the bridge.
‘Failing to deliver’
Cr Catherine Cumming said the project failed to deliver anything to Footscray or neighbouring councils.
“Buckley Street will remain the same, trucks buzzing straight down it,” she said. “I believe it does nothing for our neighbours. If anything it grinds Hobsons Bay to a halt. It shouldn’t be us pitted against Hobsons Bay.”
Cr Grant Miles said too many issues didn’t stack up, including the potential loss of open space at Stony Creek and loss of Footscray and Yarraville river frontage to a new bridge crossing.
“The crux for me is pretty much throwing Footscray to the wolves in terms of a lack of curfews,” he said. “It’s worse than nothing for the people of Footscray. Why on earth would a truck driver pay $13 to use this tunnel when he can go on Buckley Street for free?”
Cr Nam Quach said the proposal made Footscray the path of least resistance for truck traffic.
A spokeswoman for Roads Minister Luke Donnellan said the Western Distributor design was being developed through comprehensive community and industry consultation, ongoing technical work and “a robust planning process”.
“The project will create a safe and efficient transport connection, providing direct access to the port to take trucks off local roads while minimising the impact on the local community,” she said.
“The business case found the project will provide value for money, delivering an $11 billion boost to Victoria’s economy and creating 5600 jobs at the peak of construction.”