North East Link: A Perspective

By William McDougall

William discussed key aspects in the development of the North East Link which has left the State with a particularly flawed project. The transport model (ZENITH) deployed for the project substantially over-states anticipated traffic flows.

The actual benefit-cost ratio (BCR) may be in the order of 0.7, not 1.3, as published. i.e., 30 cents would be lost over the life of the project for every dollar outlaid, rather than 30 cents gained as is claimed officially. The same flawed modelling was deployed on the West Gate Tunnel, and before it, the East West Link.

Notably, the modelling did not take account of walking or cycling. The public transport mode share of all trips is anticipated to decline because of NELP.

The emissions “footprint” was not properly addressed.

Importantly, the EES process, which attracted considerable community time and effort, was not tasked to test the fundamental basis of the project. The principles and objectives enunciated in the Transport Integration Act were ignored in the development of the project.

William said that technological changes in prospect that would impact both private and public transport (e.g., the autonomous car, trackless trams and shared mobility options) was not properly addressed by the government in its endorsement of the NELP, nor the imperative to deal with climate change. These should collectively substantially diminish the requirement for roads capacity. The COVID pandemic, which emerged more recently, is likely to have longer term trends for travel which have also gone unrecognised. The concept of the “20-minute city,” although frequently endorsed by government, was ignored in the development of the NELP.

The idea that the NELP would simply deal with long-haul traffic in a single “corridor” was misplaced. In fact, travel demands and movements are likely to be much more complex than that; a fact dismissed by the Victorian government.

There are very substantial implementation risks with the project which has been costed at about $16 billion. There is only one viable bidder for the project. Other major tunnelling projects, including the West Gate Tunnel, are proving to be much more expensive than forecast. There is significant government secrecy associated with assessments of anticipated costs and are not adequately disclosed in Victorian budget documentation. Whilst NELP is a toll road project it appears that the government is preparing to take the business risk of the project with a view to securing a builder to then provide the facility on an “availability” basis, along the lines of Peninsula Link.

William concluded that the campaign would be advised to recruit transport related professionals who are informed critics of the project and to network with other campaign groups who are pushing back against similarly ill-conceived transport projects.

See William’s presentation here.