History of Truck Traffic in Melbourne’s Inner West
‘The trucks have always been here.’ Really?
One of the central arguments used to counter MTAG’s mission to get through-trucks off the streets of the inner west is, ‘The trucks have always been here.’ While it’s true the inner west has an industrial heritage, and truck traffic is part and parcel of this heritage, the volumes of truck traffic that we see today (currently 21,000 per day*) have little to do with history. In fact, they have come about as a result of the growth of the Port of Melbourne combined with the mismanagement of the development of new road infrastructure. At least 40% of the 21,000 trucks using the streets of the Yarraville, Footscray, and surrounds each day do not have a destination within the inner west and nearly all of this through-traffic is going to or from the port.
It hasn’t always been like this.
Historically, according to older locals, truck traffic in the inner west was never a big problem and was generally fairly light even on the now notorious Francis St. This is borne out by the design of streets like Francis St, Whitehall St, Somerville Rd, Buckley St and other thoroughfares that presently carry excessive volumes of truck traffic. These streets were obviously never intended for large volumes of truck traffic, they are narrow and lined with houses. They are now constantly under repair, at great expense to the taxpayer, precisely because they are being put to a use for which they were never intended.
So why have truck traffic levels increased so radically?
In the early 1990’s the route that encompasses Francis St Yarraville and Whitehall St Footscray was declared a State Highway and named Docklands Highway. This was seen at the time as a victory of sorts over a VicRoads plan to plough a truck route right through the middle of Footscray and Seddon. Whilst the creation of Docklands Highway was, perhaps rightly, seen as the lesser of two evils at the time, the planners never foresaw the impact the completion of the Western Ring Road and the Bolte Bridge in 1999 would have on truck traffic volumes using Docklands Highway.
Since it opened, the Western Ring Road has funnelled huge numbers of trucks destined for the port onto the Princes Freeway. Before the completion of the Ring Road these trucks used a variety of routes to access the port but after 1999 traffic was focussed onto this one arterial. In itself this is not a bad thing as the Princes Freeway was designed to carry trucks across the Westgate Bridge, onto Bolte Bridge, and then to the port (an extremely efficient route for all but three hours in the morning peak when the Westgate Bridge is congested). Unfortunately, however, vehicles incur a toll on the Bolte Bridge and so truck drivers do everything they can to avoid it. Instead of using Bolte Bridge, they get off the Princes Freeway at Williamstown Rd then travel through Yarraville and Footscray – the ‘Docklands Highway’ – to access the port.
The determination of truck drivers to avoid the CityLink toll is perplexing given that a VicRoads study proved that truck operators would save time, money, and fuel by using CityLink even given the cost of tolls. Even the trucking industry peak body, the Victorian Transport Association, recommends the Westgate/Bolte Bridge route. In a document it produced entitled, The Easy Way, chief executive, Philip Lovel says, “The VTA is always keen to help its members find ways to optimise their operating dollar. The [Westgate] Freeway can offer considerable cost savings through reduced travel times, fewer maintenance costs, reduced accident exposure and improved fuel efficiency.”
Unfortunately though for residents these recommendations have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, in addition to the thousands of eastbound trucks using Yarraville streets, MTAG has been observing increasing numbers of truck drivers travelling westbound over the Westgate Bridge exiting at Williamstown Rd before heading east along Francis St to the port. All this to avoid the Bolte Bridge toll! While MTAG has sympathy with the very human urge to save a buck, each individual decision by a truck driver to use a residential street in the inner west to get to where he or she needs to go is creating hell for thousands of residents.
In 2002 the State Government went some way to recognising that the situation described here was unsustainable when it implemented night-time curfews on Francis St and Somerville Rd Yarraville. But, while this was a step in the right direction these curfews do absolutely nothing to address the number of trucks using Francis St and Somerville Rd during the day when truck numbers are at their highest.
VicRoads also recently implemented bans on trucks in central Footscray, which was another step in the right direction. However, there are still no controls at all on truck traffic in Buckley St Footscray, which has been the site of numerous horrendous accidents involving trucks trying to negotiate the narrow winding street, traffic lights, roundabout, and heavy car traffic
The State Government seems to have no plans to do anything to alleviate these problems, which are set to get much worse. It seems to have dropped its oft stated commitment to get 30% of freight onto rail by 2010 but even if it did achieve this it would have little effect given that container movements at Melbourne Port are projected to increase fivefold over the next 30 years.
Instead of solutions and commitments the Government gives us studies, which until now have invariably lead nowhere. The latest is the Eddington East West needs Assessment that is expected to recommend a major tunnel link joining road networks in east of the city with those in the west. This will, in all likelihood, be ‘sold’ to the residents of the inner west as ‘the solution we have been waiting for,’ but there are many reasons to doubt the veracity of this claim should it eventuate. And even if it does offer a solution it will be at least ten years before anything changes. In the meantime Francis St carries between six and eight thousand trucks every single day and has the highest levels of diesel pollution ever recorded by the EPA.
*VicRoads count 2006