PENINSULA Link freeway opened early last Friday, the fulfillment of a 44-year dream of roadbuilders who marked a freeway reserve in the third edition of Melway in 1969.
This was when the state government planned to build a new suburb for 40,000 people on the Moorooduc Plains between Mornington and Somerville to house workers for industrial development at Western Port.
The government’s big plans for Western Port did not come to full fruition, but the reserve stayed on the map.
The 27-kilometre Peninsula Link connects EastLink tollway and Mornington Peninsula Freeway in Carrum Downs with the Mornington Peninsula Freeway at Mt Martha.
Premier Ted Baillieu and Roads Minister Terry Mulder announced the opening date last Wednesday morning at Centenary Park golf course in Frankston. The news brings to an end months of speculation among Mornington Peninsula residents about the date.
Rumours had been circulating in the Melbourne media since before Christmas with one Melbourne radio station broadcasting Australia Day long weekend as a possible opening time.
Users of Apple Maps on the iPhone had been wrongly directed to the unfinished road for more than a month.
Mr Baillieu said drivers could travel from Rosebud to Melbourne Airport without encountering a traffic light.
He said the road would bypass nine sets of traffic lights and six roundabouts on Moorooduc Highway.
Six fixed speed cameras are being installed on gantries courtesy of $10 million from the state budget last May, but will not be working for several weeks while testing takes place.
Mr Mulder said police would patrol the freeway to curb speedsters before the cameras were switched on.
A police spokesman said there would be a strong highway patrol presence on Peninsula Link, which also would be under 24-hour surveillance.
The freeway will be a boon to drivers who have to slog through heavy traffic in Frankston, but the effect at the freeway’s end in Rosebud has not been quantified.
The state government’s freeway management body, Linking Melbourne Authority, says drivers can travel between Carrum Downs and Mt Martha in 17 minutes, shaving up to 40 minutes off peak hour times.
Work on the freeway bypassing Frankston started three years ago. The cost has been listed as $759 million.
LMA and freeway builder Abigroup, which is owned by multinational property and infrastructure company Lend Lease, had promised the freeway would be completed in early 2013.
Peninsula Link will not be a toll road, but will be paid for by the state government out of general revenue, so-called “shadow tolls”.
The freeway has been built under a 25-year public private partnership (PPP) contract, also known as a DBFOM (design, build, finance, operate, maintain), where the government makes fixed quarterly payments to freeway consortium Southern Way regardless of actual traffic volume.
Southern Way has to meet set performance criteria and if the road’s availability to traffic or level of maintenance falls below standards set in the contract, the government can reduce payments or reclaim money paid.
Last July, Victoria’s Auditor-General Des Pearson said the promised economic benefits of Peninsula Link may have been overstated and its potential negative impacts ignored.
His report, Management of Major Roads Projects, was a scathing critique of the freeway, one of the state’s most expensive road projects.
Mr Pearson slammed VicRoads and Linking Melbourne Authority, saying the two authorities failed to take into account the concept that bigger and better roads encourage more traffic, so-called “induced demand”, when deciding whether to build new freeways.
“They did not adequately assess the traffic induced by these improvements, communicate the risks, or estimate the impact of the economic benefits,” he said.
“These shortcomings create a risk of over-estimating the benefits and giving decision-makers false confidence.”
The report said LMA also had weaknesses in the way it had made procurement decisions.
Peninsula Link was conceived during the global financial crisis by the Brumby Labor government.
Public transport lobbyist Ian Hundley said Peninsula Link, “contrary to the propaganda of its boosters, threatens to change the peninsula for the worse in ways that the community has not fully appreciated”.
“I rang LMA a few days ago and asked them the design capacity of Peninsula Link. They advised that each of the four lanes can carry about 2000 vehicles an hour, 8000 all up,” he said.
“This is notionally a carrying capacity of 192,000 vehicles a day. LMA said it was anticipating the freeway would carry about 40,000 vehicles each day in the northern section and 20-30,000 a day on the southern section.”
Mr Hundley said the Brumby government sought a matching contribution from the federal government, “which sensibly refused to come to the party”.
“It would be intriguing to know what forces were at play, remote from public gaze that permitted the project to proceed.
“It has been said Brumby was a ‘car man’, in the manner of Tony Abbott and John Howard, the implication being that he favoured roads over other forms of transport, with little regard for the evidence, and the need for expanded usage of sustainable transport.
“It is to be hoped the truth behind the decision to build this freeway comes out before too long.”
While the LMA advises heavy vehicles accessing the Hastings area from the freeway to use Mornington-Tyabb Rd and then Frankston-Flinders Rd, a danger warning has been issued.
Tyabb and District Ratepayers Group secretary Katrina Chalke says trucks will pass two schools (“where the traffic congestion is horrendous at the best of times”), then through Tyabb.
“This flies in the face of any previous heavy traffic advice, which has been discussed or recommended,” Ms Chalke said.
About 70 per cent of the 25-kilometre bike and walking path being built as part of the Peninsula Link project is also open, with work continuing through the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve and the Mornington Peninsula Tourist Rail in Moorooduc.
Frankston MP Geoff Shaw said the shorter trip along the freeway opened employment opportunities on the peninsula for Frankston residents and easier access for holidaymakers.
He said traffic volumes were expected to drop by 30 per cent on Nepean Highway, Moorooduc Highway and Frankston-Flinders Rd.
Details of changes to the road network can be seen at www.linkingmelbourne.vic.gov.au