People of the suburbs forgotten in the port's expansion.

Maribyrnong Truck Action Group reminds us that Channel Deepening effects spill over into the suburbs too.

The Age

June 19, 2007

IT'S 7am when Susan wakes from a fitful sleep broken by the 400 or so semi-trailers that have rumbled by her house in Francis Street, Yarraville, during the night. She feels tired and scratchy but she's used to it — it's the same every night.

A bit later that morning, in Buckley Street, Footscray, a student waits to cross at the lights on his way to Victoria University as dozens of container trucks negotiate the clogged street. A little further up Buckley Street, the first toddlers are arriving at a child-care centre with its play area facing the traffic and in Somerville Road, Yarraville, children from St Augustine's Primary School are streaming in through gates just beneath an overpass that carries thousands of trucks every day.

This is the reality of daily life for many residents in inner-western suburbs, including Yarraville and Footscray. Truck traffic in these areas has grown massively in the past 15 years to levels that are close to unbearable, especially for people who live and work on the suburban streets that have been carved out as truck routes by big companies and independent contractors keen to keep costs down by avoiding CityLink tolls.

It's a frightening and unsustainable situation that the Bracks Government has failed to manage and which is set to get even worse. If channel deepening and the expansion of the port goes ahead as proposed by the Port of Melbourne Corporation, there will be, according to the Department of Infrastructure, a fivefold rise in numbers of container movements through the port, yet there is no plan for how to manage the concomitant increase in truck traffic.

This week the Channel Deepening Inquiry, which is part of the Supplementary Environmental Effects Statement, begins*. It is expected to deliver a recommendation after hearing only 20 days of evidence and submissions, and the decision will be made without any proper consideration of how to deal with this massive increase in freight caused by channel deepening.

Despite widespread criticism, the Bracks Government appears to be in a hurry to get channel deepening under way. So much so, it seems to have forgotten that there is another relevant study just around the corner: the Eddington East-West Needs Assessment Study, which is due to sit later this year and which has the Port of Melbourne freight task as part of its terms of reference. Its findings are due next year.

The recommendations in its report will surely be crucial to the viability or otherwise of plans for channel deepening and yet dredging is likely to be already under way before the report has been delivered, let alone considered. This is a recipe for bad public policy and a potential disaster for residential neighbourhoods such as Yarraville.

The community concern that has been building in the inner west about truck traffic levels illustrates that road and rail infrastructure is not coping with current levels of traffic generated by the port. What will it cost to create the road and rail network to safely handle the enormous further increases generated by the proposed port expansion? Will the benefits justify this investment? And what about the social costs, how are they being factored into the port's calculations, if at all?

Contrary to State Government spin, the Port of Melbourne is not the only viable option for handling increases in imports and exports and it is folly not to consider other options in the light of a comprehensive review of the costs and benefits of such a massively expensive and potentially damaging project.

We need to ask ourselves as a community whether we want and need channel deepening, whether it is worth the cost and associated risks. And we need to be able to discuss these issues with as much information on the table as possible. The Channel Deepening Directions Hearing should be a first step in that process.

The people of Yarraville have been forgotten in the debate about port expansion and it is time they were taken into consideration. Communities in the inner west need to know that there is a plan that will protect their health, safety and urban amenity from the deleterious effects of increases in port-generated truck traffic. Any decision on channel deepening should be put on hold until the East-West Needs Assessment Study has delivered its findings; only then can the viability of channel deepening and port expansion be properly appraised.

Peter Knight is a member of the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group

 *Blue Wedges editor made slight change to details of Public Inquiry, now underway.



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