Most residents of Melbourne would be aware of the West Gate Tunnel Project, but those living elsewhere in Australia may not have heard of this project and even Melbourne residents might not be aware of how much new cycling infrastructure is supposed to be included.
In summary, the West Gate Tunnel Project is a huge motorway expansion project involving building twin tunnels under the inner western suburb to link the city with the western suburbs. There are a number of above-ground link roads being constructed as part of the project. The existing motorway which runs to the west of the 1970’s constructed West Gate Bridge is also being widened.
Like most motorway projects, the cost, which was huge to start with at $5.5 billion, has blown out, in this case initially to $6.7 billion and according to the latest reports, as high as $11 billion. The completion date has also been pushed back from 2022 to at least 2024. But tunnelling is yet to start due to the discovery of contaminated soil and dilemmas over where to dump it.
Even at the initial cost, the BCR (benefit-cost ratio) of the project was only 1.1, barely above ‘break even’.
Meanwhile, the tightly unionised tunnelling workers have negotiated pay of $300,000 per annum.
A West Gate Tunnel Project spokesperson said, “Work on the West Gate Tunnel Project is happening around the clock – and while we’ve been busy adding new lanes to the West Gate Freeway we’re also making good progress on 14 kilometres of new and upgraded walking and cycling paths.
“When they’re finished it’ll be much safer and easier for people to travel between Melbourne’s west and the city.”
Some key components of the active travel elements of the project include:
- A new 2.5 kilometre elevated ‘Veloway’ to give cyclists an express journey to and from the city completely separated from traffic.
- Wider, well lit-paths under the West Gate Freeway at Millers Road and Williamstown Road.
- Completing the missing link in the Federation Trail with a new off-road path between Fogarty Avenue and Hyde Street and upgrades to the trail from Kororoit Creek to Fogarty Avenue.
- A new connection from the Federation Trail to Hyde Street Reserve and Spotswood Station.
- A new pedestrian and cycling bridge at Dynon Road to make it safer and easier to cross Moonee Ponds Creek and the rail lines to link into the broader cycle network.
- A new path under the freeway connecting new open space, and future development sites Bradmill and Precinct 15, with the Federation Trail.
- Upgraded cycling facilities along Hyde Street and Harris Street to improve safety, removing the need to use the Whitehall Street/Somerville Road intersection.
- A new bridge over Whitehall Street to create a link between Yarraville Gardens and the Maribyrnong River.
- The upgrade of the existing path on Footscray Road over the Moonee Ponds Creek to provide a wider and safer path.
- A new pedestrian and cycling bridge over Footscray Road to remove a dangerous and busy crossing.
Garry Brennan, a spokesperson for Bicycle Network, Victoria’s peak advocacy group that has been closely involved in design consultation said, “The project is scheduled to deliver some major bike infrastructure: the completion of the Federation Trail out in the west, a number of bridges over creeks and a new route into the city, which is the Veloway extended from the overhead freeway.
“All of these projects are still to be delivered. They are behind schedule because of the covid slowdown and because of delays with the tunnelling to do with environmental approvals. However we are confident that they will all be delivered and that they all will be of a very satisfactory standard when completed.
“The Dynon Road bridge is being piled currently. In some cases, the bike infrastructure is being done in advance.
“They’re using the Austroads standard in general, which is three metres, but in some sections, for example through Docklands, there are already paths that are four metres wide.”
According to the West Gate Tunnel Project’s documentation, the Veloway itself will be four metres wide.
“Because there are quite a few bridges and ramps that are very high up in the air and of considerable length, industry estimates put it at well above $100 million,” Garry continued.
“The West Gate tunnel project extends from central Melbourne out to the western suburbs, through the rapidly densifying inner west. The growth of cycling in the inner west in recent years has been hectic! This new infrastructure will unlock a lot more riders for trips into the Melbourne of CBD.
“Right now one section of the current route into Docklands from the west, on a typical morning about 2,000 riders between 7am and 9am currently cross into Docklands from the Moonee Ponds Creek.
“We already have rocking numbers in from the west but when the new infrastructure goes in, we expect those numbers to scale up considerably.”