Ted Bails out on inner-city residents

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Why did Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu ignore EPA advice to build a bypass for an inner-city Melbourne street traversed by 500 trucks an hour, in favour of one that sees just 60? Environment editor Sandi Keane reports from what may be Australia’s most polluted residential street — and which just happens to lie in a safe Labor electorate.

A long-awaited, ‘shovel-ready’ solution to reduce truck traffic in Melbourne’s inner-west was again left on the table in this week’s Victorian State Budget.

The former Brumby government’s Truck Action Plan proposed to take a million trucks off residential streets by constructing new ramps connecting West Gate Freeway and Hyde Street at Yarraville.

But the $40 million allocated for stage one of the $380 million project remains ‘parked’ since the change in government.

According to Francis Street residents, the daily conga line of diesel-belching trucks has led to sleepless nights, pictures falling off rails, and black oily spots covering anything left outside.

Local parent Martin Wurt says the concentration of trucks and diesel emissions is the highest of any residential street in Australia.

A 2008 study counted 7,000 trucks per day or 500 per hour on Francis Street, concluding it was “unacceptable”.

Owners of a 1920s Federation gem in Francis Street, Graham and Anne Brinsden, believe the Coalition will never spend money in a safe Labor seat.

The Baillieu government has opted instead to build a controversial bypass at Kilmore with only 60 trucks an hour down its main street.

“Ten years ago, the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) found that, five days out of thirty, harmful emissions were above government intervention levels.[2]

“If we lived in the USA, the EPA would take the State government to court. Here, the levels set by government were breached but ignored,” said Martin Wurt.

Yarraville’s heritage atmosphere and village lifestyle appeal to young professionals and their families who, in turn, have attracted an array of professional and health care services, a festival, cinema and some of the coolest eateries in Melbourne.

A perfect place to raise a young family.  Or so they thought.

Martin Wurt who has lived in the area for twenty years has seen a dramatic increase in truck numbers.

“The ‘so-called’ truck solutions – Western Ring Road and CityLink – have simply funnelled more trucks through Yarraville. Operators get paid about $50 to transport an empty container so they avoid the tolls by cutting through Yarraville to get to the docks,” he said.

The Brinsdens agree.

“The loss of manufacturing has increased imports from China so the number of trucks keep growing”, said Graham Brinsden.

Martin Wurt compares Melbourne with Rotterdam, where all diesel is banned.

“Everything is electric — the ships, cranes, forklifts. It’s the same with Los Angeles, where they have special diesel filters to reduce pollution.”

Five years ago, concerned residents set up the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group (MTAG). Now a powerful lobby group, Wurt, its Secretary, was invited to speak at an international conference in Los Angeles on communities impacted by international trade issues such as trucks.

Whilst MTAG believes the first order of business should be to get the West Gate ramps built, it sees rail as is the long term solution. Three inter-modal hubs – one in the west, one in Dandenong and one in Epping – could all be linked by rail to the port, as recommended in Rod Eddington’s 2008 transport report.

The freight by rail solution is supported by the Baillieu government.

Next week, the EPA will recommence measuring the health impacts of diesel fumes in Francis Street.

Labor MP for Williamstown, Wade Noonan, welcomes the testing.

“I will be monitoring levels and will seek to meet with Victorian Chief Health Officer in relation to readings and their impact on local residents. It will be much harder for the government to ignore the problem if the EPA records higher levels than other parts of Melbourne,”he said.

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