Road Congestion

Congestion: what is it, and why is it a problem?

Traffic data confirms that traffic congestion on Melbourne’s roads is the worst it’s ever been.  But what’s causing these unprecedented levels of congestion, why is it so bad for communities and the economy, and what can we do to help fix it?

Victoria is booming

For 10 years Victoria’s population growth has been the strongest of any Australian state or territory, and its growth is forecast to continue.  The state population is expected to grow from around 6 million to 10 million by 2050.  Despite strong growth in Victoria’s regional areas, the vast majority of new residents settle in Greater Melbourne, which reached a milestone population of 5 million people in August 2018.

As growth continues, so does pressure on our transport system. It is estimated that by 2050, Melbourne’s transport networks will need to cope with 23 million trips per day, nearly double the current figure of 12.5 million.  Our existing road infrastructure is not able to keep pace with this increase, and when travel demand exceeds the capacity of the transport network, the result is experienced by road users as traffic congestion.

Population growth chart

Congestion is bad for everyone

stylised traffic

The impacts of congestion are significant and are felt by all of us.  For the typical commuter, Infrastructure Victoria estimates that time spent on congested roads across Melbourne will increase by 20% by 2030.  With more traffic congestion comes more air pollution as vehicles stuck in traffic emit more greenhouse gases and air pollutants.  This affects the quality of our air and damages the environment.

People and goods that are delayed in traffic reduce productivity and increase freight costs.  These expenses are often passed onto consumers and contribute to the cost of living pressures faced by all Victorians.  According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, road congestion in 2015 across all roads in Melbourne cost $4.6 billion, highlighting the enormous burden that congestion puts on our economy.

Construction pain

RACV and the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) have worked together to analyse five years of historical travel data for Melbourne and found a steady decrease in travel speeds over that time.  The analysis found that although peak hour is the worst, the off-peak travel speeds have also been in steady decline. Overall the decline is dramatically greater since 2016.

Coinciding with the dramatic change in 2016 is the sudden increase in construction work affecting the road network across Melbourne.  Level Crossing Removals, upgrades on the Monash Freeway, Tullamarine Freeway and Western Ring Road have not only affected peak period travel, but also off-peak travel.  Major public transport improvements are also causing traffic disruptions, either directly due to works that reduce road capacity, or indirectly when public transport disruptions shift commuters into private vehicles.

Whilst these works are necessary, they mean additional delays and inconvenience for commuters before things improve.

stylised traffic

Easing congestion - what RACV wants

Road congestion is just one symptom of a wider transport problem.  Fixing congestion, or at least easing it to acceptable levels, requires work across the whole system.  As Victoria grows, so too does the urgent need to tackle every part of the transport problem.

  • Support for all modes of transport

    Encouraging people to walk, cycle and take public transport is not only better for our health and the environment, it reduces the number of vehicle trips and therefore decreases road congestion.  That’s why RACV advocates for the needs of all road users – pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and car drivers, plus truck drivers and our emergency services.  All road users should responsibly share the road and move around sensibly within the road rules.

  • Integrated control centre

    RACV supports the development of a central transport control centre to oversee the management of the State’s transport system, manage incident responses, coordinate major events and minimise disruptions from construction activities.

  • Road management

    Investment in roads should benefit all road users by providing footpaths, cycling facilities, bus stops, bus lanes and space for private and commercial vehicles. The State government has developed a process for balancing road space through its ‘Movement and Place’ initiative, but RACV calls for more to be done to address congestion on key traffic routes, including those that are managed by local Councils.  This must commence with a wholesale review of Melbourne’s arterial road clearway program.

  • Good maintenance

    Keeping our road network in good working order ensures that our infrastructure is safe, easy to understand and reliable.  RACV advocates for our signs, road surfaces, pavement markings and traffic signals to be inspected regularly and maintained to acceptable standards.

Targeted advocacy

RACV regularly engages with Victorians to find out what you think about the issues that affect you.  Some of our biggest advocacy programs shine a light on road congestion; where it is, who it affects most and how to help alleviate it.

2018 Redspot Survey

Redspot logo

The RACV Redspot Survey was run in partnership with Leader Community News and 7 News. Over 18,000 votes identified the most frustrating congestion spots in Victoria. The results are now available at

Growing Pains

RACV has looked at the transport needs throughout outer metropolitan Melbourne and the 10 largest regional cities across Victoria. For more information, visit the Growing Pains page

RACV advocates for a better Victoria on behalf of all members