By Terry Lane in Sunday's Age
Now then, let's see if we've got this right.
The State Government has spent $750 million improving regional rail services and that is a scandal. The minister is called to account because the fast trains aren't fast enough.
Then the minister announces that $1 billion is to be spent widening freeways and there is not a peep.
Just think about it for a moment. Petrol is heading to $1.50 a litre and the rise is steady and inexorable. Who knows what it might be by this time next year.
The freeway system is already a bumper to bumper sewer for most of the day and an elongated car park at peak hours. It is the most inefficient, expensive method of commuting. Adding an extra lane in each direction is not going to help matters much, unless the economics of driving forces people to leave the car at home. There might be some price for petrol that eventually turns the freeway system into a place safe for skateboarders.
Apart from the economic costs of driving there are the environmental costs. According to the Federal Government's Australian Greenhouse office the transport sector accounted for around 80 million tonnes of Australia's total net greenhouse gas emissions in 2003, representing 15 per cent of Australia's total emissions.
About 90 per cent of these emissions came from road transport, including cars, trucks and buses. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are growing substantially, rising by 29 per cent between 1990 and 2003.
Latest projections indicate that emissions from the transport sector will rise by 53 per cent between 1990 and 2010. These terrifying figures do not come from Green alarmist propaganda but from the dark brown Howard Government.
Any politician of normal intelligence and concern for the wellbeing of their grandchildren would be closing off freeway lanes, not adding new ones.
But if some visionary had proposed building a rail track in the space that will be occupied by the extra lane they would be howled down.
Mr Bracks and Mr Batchelor would tell us that it would be too expensive. Compared to what? Expanding a freeway? When it comes to public transport, politicians morph into self-defensive Scrooge, but when it is cars in question their confident prodigality is boundless.
OK. Let's try another appeal. Our political overlords are fond of boasting about Melbourne's standing in the ranks of world cities. Everything about the place is either iconic or world class these days. Well, it isn't.
One of the marks of modernity is a public transport system that is so good that even the rich use it. Even, in some rare cases, the politicians.
The problem with the regional fast rail service is not that it cost too much or that it isn't fast enough - it is that the concept is not bold enough. By modern standards, 160kmh is a dawdle but it would do if the trains are frequent and do not have to stop at every station on the way. A 160kmh express from Ballarat or Bendigo to Melbourne would be an excellent service and $750 million would be cheap at twice the price.
If $1 billion is to be spent widening the freeways then let the extra lanes be for trains. Your grandchildren will thank you for your foresight.