The real alternative to Freeway Madness

See below an article by Freo Road 2 Rail and Save Beeliar Wetlands activist Pam Nairn, originally published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Fremantle Herald:

There are many reasons for Fremantle to resist amalgamation with Melville. Nothing however has the power to change the face of Fremantle more than Melville's approach to roads and road building.

The people who live on Leach Highway in Melville, on High St and alongside Stirling Highway in East Fremantle put up with heavy traffic, particularly trucks, polluting their air, disturbing their sleep or terrifying them when they drive out of their driveways. The City of Melville has been lobbying the government to build Roe 8 in the mistaken belief that it will relieve Leach Highway of its problems.

Have they looked at the figures released by SMC, the Main Roads consortium, showing traffic numbers if Roe 8 were to be built? By 2021 the traffic on Leach Highway over most of its length from Kwinana Freeway to Stock Road would not have reduced at all.

This is because of the large increase in cars and trucks we will have on the road. Lots of traffic would be travelling on Roe 8, but there would be an equal share of misery for all on both Roe 8 and Leach Highway.

Even if we just look at truck numbers, Main Roads are not saying that numbers on Leach Highway will be decreased by 2021. The best they have said is that by 2021 the increased number of trucks on Leach Highway will be 11% less with Roe 8 than it would have been without Roe8. If I lived on Leach highway I don't think that this pathetic change would make a significant difference to my quality of life.

But those figures from a 2010 SMC information sheet are now out of date. They included a planned doubling of container freight by 2031. Growth has been so great that this doubling will be reached in the next few years and now there are further plans for doubling again by 2031.

Most of those containers will travel by truck via Roe 8, Leach Highway, High St, Stirling Bridge and through North Fremantle to the Port. Main Roads is intent on building a truck freeway through Cockburn, Melville and Fremantle to the Port.

The cost of this plan will include $0.75 billion for the Roe8 extension, perhaps $1 billion for widening Stock Road (with multiple overpasses), $118 million budgeted for the High Street corner, unknown cost for widening Stirling Highway and the Stirling Bridge and whatever it will take to bulldoze North Fremantle and widen Tydeman Road.

Main Roads never talks openly about its overall freeway fantasy; it only drops snipets of information. For example, at the September 25th residents briefing on the High Street upgrade, where Main Roads was met with a solid wall of community opposition, a departmental speaker explicitly said that their proposed 6 lane High Street will link into a six lane Stirling Highway and that the Bridge can be widened.

In previous years Department of Transport spokespeople similarly referred in passing to such plans and also declared that the new road in Fremantle would allow B-double road trains to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the Port. Yes, road trains 24 hours a day.

There is an alternative to this, and it includes more freight on rail. Currently, the Port transports only 14% of its containers by rail. Before the last election the transport Minister Mr Buswell announced that they would increase this percentage to 30%.WA should be putting a minimum of 30% of the freight on rail, particularly since the rail lines to the port already exist, fully paid for in a supposedly cash-strapped state.

However Mr Buswell has admitted in parliament that there is no plan to ever make his 30% target a reality. A “target” without a plan or date is at best an aspiration, at worst it is window dressing designed to silence the community.

The health effects of diesel fumes are well documented. People who live near major roads have increased incidences of respiratory diseases and some forms of cancer. Children are particularly at risk.

It was no surprise that last year the World Health Organisation declared that diesel particulates are a class 1 carcinogen, the same category as asbestos and tobacco smoke. Furthermore, chronic exposure to high levels of traffic noise can increase rates of heart disease and stroke. Spending billions of dollars on truck freeways locks us in to road freight transport and saddles us with long term health effects.

The current road design that Main Roads have presented to the community is, quite bluntly, unacceptable. It would wall off a section of Fremantle like a ghetto and while it would relieve High Street residents of their current extreme danger of road accident, it would transfer that danger around the corner to the Marmion Street intersection. It would increase, not decrease noise and diesel particulate pollution and if the plans to manage these are as inadequate as the management plans developed for Roe8 (now available in the EPA's conditional approval of Roe8) then we are in deep trouble.

This illustrates why there is no NIMBY solution to this transportation issue. A plan has to be developed that serves the entire WA community, with publicly declared milestone dates, consultation and transparency.

The Transport Minister can simply designate rail freight as the primary means of getting containers to the Port. Minimising the number of trucks on the road will make the safety issue at the Leach Highway/Stirling Highway corner a very easy matter to manage.

Unfortunately we are faced with a lack of coherent transport planning. We are told government spending must be cut to avoid a financial blowout yet the government is proposing a truck freeway to the Port when the rail line is there begging to be used.

There are future plans to widen Canning Highway in East Fremantle similar to those already announced for Stirling Highway. Those plans did not preserve buildings on Fremantle's heritage register - only state listed buildings. Post amalgamation East Fremantle will have no councillor of its own to fight road works.

Melville likes to gag its elected members. It needs to keep tight control because many councillors do not support the official line. When Main Roads come with a demolition plan for the bits of Fremantle inconveniently in the way of their truck route, what confidence can we have that Melville will adequately represent Fremantle and East Fremantle's interests?

This freeway from Roe8 to North Fremantle is being built bit by bit, and affected communities along the way are having to fight their own battle, alone. Instead of shuffling the trucks around we should be reducing the numbers on our roads.

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