Melbourne’s unfinished Ring Road causes major problems

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An illustration of Gollum and angry drivers

When Mario Panaccio has plenty of time, he drives the one kilometre to the local shops. If the shopping is urgent, he walks. Most days the drive takes 30 minutes, the walk just 10.

Congestion is the norm in narrow Rosanna Rd, which has become a de facto link between the Eastern Freeway at Ivanhoe and the Metropolitan Ring Road at Greensborough.

“It really is hopeless and dangerous,” Mr Panaccio says. “Driving to the Eastern Freeway – 4km – can take up to an hour. Once it took me longer to travel from my house to the freeway than it did to drive from the freeway entrance through to Frankston.”

Locals, commuters and truck drivers all agree that a freeway-status road – the North East Link – must be built to join the end of the Metropolitan Ring Road at Greensborough and EastLink at Ringwood. Some residents say only a catastrophe will force the State Government to solve the problem of this “missing link” in Melbourne’s freeway network.

The residents might be right; a spokesperson for Roads Minister Luke Donnellan says the link is a long-term project, meaning its timeframe is from 2025 to 2050, and no route has yet been decided.

VicRoads regional director metro north west, Vince Punaro, said significant planning and community consultation would be required.

That’s not good enough, say Rosanna Rd residents, who live with the rumble of 45,000 vehicles a day on this narrow, hilly and winding road, a gauntlet they have to run to get to work, school or the shops.

Deteriorating situation

Resident Hayley Laing says the situation is deteriorating almost daily and she feels “threatened and intimidated”.

“We’ve been living here since 2004 and the trucks and road safety issues were never this bad,” Ms Laing says. “We didn’t move here expecting a sleepy hollow but the volume, size of trucks and related incidents have skyrocketed.

“I am scared when I go out to my letterbox or to collect the bins that a truck will veer off the road and collect me. I’m scared that if my kids are playing in the front yard a power pole might be hit and fall our way or a truck might hit the gutter and come through our fence.

“Banyule Council has told me they are not interested in discussing the issues because it is a matter for VicRoads. But when I tried to discuss the camber and width of our road with VicRoads I received a useless reply.”

Night-time truck curfew

As a concession to concerns, the State Government imposed a night-time truck curfew for Rosanna Rd and several others roads in the vicinity. Some residents say it has failed because trucks now spearhead an early-morning traffic gridlock seven days a week, while others defy the curfew.

Brian Negus, RACV’s general manager of public policy, says the missing link between the Ring Road and the Eastern Freeway has long been RACV’s number one road improvement priority.

“It has never been built because there have always been overriding political, financial, social and environmental issues, including the fact that the link road has to get to the other side of the Yarra and its parklands. But those issues won’t go away if nothing is done and congestion will get worse – waiting until 2025 is not acceptable.”

Mr Negus says one of the main issues is the need for freight to be moved from the rapidly expanding distribution centres around Dandenong and other outer south-eastern suburbs towards the Hume, Calder and Western freeways.

“Currently many of these vehicles are using the totally inadequate network of ordinary suburban roads around Bulleen, Rosanna and Watsonia, making life very difficult for residents and other road users.”

An illustration of the completed ring road project

Two potential routes

Mr Negus says there are two potential routes for the link. One would head south from the end of the Metropolitan Ring Road at Greens­borough. It would join the Eastern Freeway near Bulleen Rd. The other is to go south-east to join the Eastern Freeway and EastLink near Ringwood. Both routes would involve tunnelling to avoid passing though sensitive areas such as the Banyule Flats or the Yarra Wetlands.

“Upgrades to the Eastern Freeway would be necessary with both scenarios but a completed system is essential and could be deliverable within a decade,” he says. “We propose that the Government conducts an urgent planning and environmental inquiry with comprehensive community and stakeholder consultation to determine the best route.”

Link would have immediate effect

Peter Anderson, CEO of the Victorian Transport Association, which represents the trucking industry, says an immediate 40% reduction in truck traffic on suburban roads could be expected if the North East Link were built.

“There would be an instant return in fuel use reductions and productivity gains because heavy vehicles would be utilised more efficiently,” Mr Anderson says. “These benefits would flow through to the economy because more deliveries could be made throughout the day.

“We estimate the North East Link could be built for between $6 and $9 billion and be completed within five years. We are confident any business case and modelling would justify the project.”

RACV calculations show that the longest of the possible routes to complete the Ring Road could halve travel times between Eastlink at Ringwood and the current end of the Metropolitan Ring Road at Greensborough.

David Wallace, president of the Vegetable Growers Association of Victoria, says the truck curfew on Rosanna Rd clashes with delivery hours for the new Melbourne wholesale fruit and vegetable market at Epping.

“About 5000 trucks access the market a day and 3000 of them might be heading back to the eastern side of Melbourne. It puts a lot of pressure on small roads.”

Sonja Terpstra from the Banyule United Residents Group says building the North East Link is only part of any solution.

Out of the box thinking needed

“We need out of the box thinking; we can’t just do what we have always done.”

She says an approach that includes public transport, cycling infrastructure and other transport initiatives is needed.

The area’s population is growing rapidly, she says, but pressures such as education choices are adding to congestion. “We have people driving past perfectly good schools to send their children to schools in Banyule. That adds to traffic.”

While the two councils most affected – Banyule and Nillumbik – agree a North East link freeway is vital, they have opposing views on the route.

Banyule Mayor Craig Langdon says his council wants the road to run east through Nillumbik, joining EastLink beyond the Mullum Mullum tunnel near Ringwood.

Nillumbik Mayor Bronnie Hattam wants it to pass through Banyule, heading south to the Eastern Freeway.

In the interim, both councils advocate better public transport, cycling infrastructure and road safety improvements.

House values suffering

Local real estate agent Brett Greig says house values are suffering. “Rosanna Rd is a hard sell, the hardest in this district. And that’s because it’s the worst road, traffic-wise, in the metropolitan area – with the possible exception of Punt Rd.”

Dr John Stone, senior lecturer in transport planning at Melbourne University, opposes the link. “Melbourne’s transport planning has for decades been focused on ‘solving’ congestion at the next hot spot. Instead, we need to ask what sort of transport system we need to tackle problems of climate change, air pollution, social exclusion, and the wasted hours of long commutes and weekend traffic jams,” Dr Stone says.

RACV’s Brian Negus says the “failure of successive Governments to achieve a bipartisan long-term plan for road and public transport infrastructure, and then implement it, has created the transport problems being faced across Victoria.

“It would be hard for any public transport service in the corridor across the north-east to make a substantial difference,” he says. “It would leave trucks running through residential communities.”

But where does this leave the Rosanna Rd residents? Francesca Taranto has twice returned home to a power outage because a truck had struck a power pole.

“What do families with small children do? Our house was freezing, so we had to go to bed at 8pm to keep warm,” she says.

An action group, Resolve Rosanna Road, works with VicRoads to look at short-term ways to improve the road. Member and local resident George Kio says the government was made aware of the issues, including with a petition to Parliament before the 2014 state election that had more than 600 signatures.

“Still there’s no sign of the North East Link on the agenda,” Mr Kio says. “Governments seem to put the project in the too-hard basket.”

Fast facts

  • 40% Expected reduction in trucks on suburban roads if the North East Link is built. Source: Victorian Transport Association
  • $3 billion Cost of congestion in Melbourne and Geelong in 2011
  • Source: Infrastructure Australia
  • $9 billion Projected cost of congestion in Melbourne and Geelong in 2031 Source: Infrastructure Australia.
Heavy traffic queued on the ring road

The issue

Melbourne has a ring road that is a ring road in name only.

Those travelling east along the Metropolitan Ring Road find that it suddenly ends in a T-intersection.

There is no freeway link to the south eastern suburbs and the Eastern Freeway.

During peak times a large volume of traffic is forced on to congested roads that were not designed to accommodate large vehicles or large traffic volumes.

The 1969 Freeway Plan for Melbourne included plans to complete the Ring Road with a freeway between Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway.

Written by Paul Edwards, Photos Shannon Morris
February 01, 2016