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The only thing better than a common enemy
Posted by Tony on 15th November 2013 at 12:51:29
More than a few of us are going to struggle, at least briefly, after the first fragile domino falls and #EWfail goes away in a screaming heap. The great thing this common enemy has done for a vast and interesting assortment (who all have constructive things we would rather be doing) was forge working relationships between people who may never have known each other without it, certainly never been candidates for any "rent a crowd", yet who were drawn by individual perspectives on how wrong EW is.

My own story isn't important here, but needs to be quickly summarised. Having taken on significant voluntary responsibility for the Moonee Ponds Creek in recent years, I was aware I had not kept up with what colleagues were doing in our Royal Park tributary. It was in good hands and had never been as urgent as other issues along the Creek. But the May announcement of a road tunnel exit via an escarpment which holds 50 year old memories did not look right, so that first weekend I took myself and my camera for an updated look. And so went my ensuing six months, plus however long into the future it may take to bring an end to this nonsense.

A much better encapsulation is the story of Neil Moreton, by any criteria an ordinary bloke who has been propelled to extraordinary, maintaining the fight while giving up on his own personal dreams. Neil had bought one of the EVO apartments off the plan because it was opposite his baseball home at Ross Straw Field, the importance of which in Melbourne baseball history is still being neglected by others who should care. Due to an accident of timing which challenged the bank-developer hegemony on the Australian economy, the Napthine regime quickly found $90 million to make the EVO problem go away. Faced with losses no normal purchaser could contemplate, Neil and all but one other purchaser accepted the offer to go away. Now, sadly, he feels that even when EW goes away that he could not contemplate accepting any reinstatement offer because of the wringer he has been put through. Yet he still maintains his intellectual contribution and friendship to the cause of bringing an end to the nonsense.

How did the government get it so wrong? It may take a trans Tasman royal commission to uncover why similarly hopeless proposals are being promoted in several cities in the same month while northern hemisphere Anglo regimes have universally conceded that it is time to tear down inner urban freeways, although it could just be the last gasping breaths of super funds choking themselves on Transurban envy for the only one of these projects that ever produced a worthwhile return to investors. Such "industry pressure" aside, there have been two now obvious points of failure, one the methodologically flawed route selection process and the other party political which has a few more casualties ripe for taking.

Decision theory remains an active frontier, but there are some basic principles. Given an imaginary blank canvas, the best starting point is to add the most obvious constraints. In this case that was done by those who identified the under-utilised off peak capacity of the Eastern Freeway as a potential release for the often struggling and always fragile M1 corridor. This was done at the same time as other arms of often the same departments were pursuing the only viable long term strategy of moving the growth of metropolitan container traffic from road to rail via intermodal hubs, but old guard road bureaucrats don't die easily. Armed with that road first decision, they then looked at the Eastern end alignment first and through a series of misjudgements settled on the previously resisted connection into Alexander Parade as a starting point whose 1969 plan continuations had been long since rendered unviable. The argument discussed in some length in the EW CIS eliminated option after option until they accepted that only one was left. The stark reality for anybody familiar with decision theory is than zero were left and they needed to push back to the previously assumed decision and reevaluate. However they were already entrained in a political timetable which would not allow that, let alone going back as must now be done to the road v rail decision point. This is not about Doncaster rail in particular, but prioritisation of the freight rail network above all else, though other members of our broad alliance will rightfully bring their own perspectives to the table here.

The parallel political missteps would be comedic gold if not for the collateral casualties. Rather than try to sell a strategy of diverting a significant portion of freight traffic to the Eastern Freeway, political operatives decided they could sell EW as addressing commuter peak congestion between the Freeway and Hoddle Street which anybody with half a clue knew would be more effectively tackled by the long promised and once even started Doncaster Rail. A then premier obsessed with getting the planning right but increasingly seen as ineffective was replaced by dredging up a failed leader from last century and he in turn bought way too heavily into the manufactured spin surrounding EW to the point of letting it define his premiership and downfall. (I still half suspect he actually misheard "congestion boosting" because nothing could be closer to the commercial interests of big oil and the motor industries.) The ultimate political mistake was that this was supposed to boost that side's votes in Melbourne's eastern suburbs, but the voters in those suburbs are way smarter than "Howard's battlers" and the effective swing against Labor there was 3% lower than elsewhere. After a string of white elephants and black holes, enough were wary of an $8 billion price tag without a public cost benefit analysis, a point laid bare when the reluctant bureaucratic proponent admitted that the claimed cost benefit only applied to the completed full $18 billion EW route, unable to respond to my assertion that all the net benefit is doubtless in the delayed former Westlink section, at least on the highly contested model being used.

That one thing better than a common enemy? A fragile enemy locked into transparent stupidity!

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