MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA:CityLink Troubles
By Peter Samuel
Second, in a surprise political turnup, the conservative state government which sponsored the toll road has been defeated and replaced by a leftwing government that has been critical of the project. The toll road itself was not a major issue in the election campaign. Rather the voters appear to have voted out the premier Jeff Kennett on account of his arrogant attitudes on a range of issues and his high-handed action against an inconvenient state auditor. But the political environment has suddenly turned distinctly chillier for the tollster.
CityLink is the worlds largest fully investor-financed toll project and only the second fully automated multi-leg/ multiple interchange toll road system to implement exclusive open road highway speed tolling with a combination of electronic tags and imaging no provision for payment on the road, Torontos 407-ETR being the first. CityLink in its southern section has one of the worlds longest 3-lane one-direction tunnels at 3.4km. The other direction of traffic has a 2km tunnel. The road involves a major bridge over, and a great amount of construction alongside, the Yarra river and tributary streams, often in tight difficult conditions, utility relocation and maintenance of cross traffic, trains and trolleys. 74 lane-km of new roadway is being built along 18km (11mi) of central city routes at a construction cost of $1.3b ($18m/lane-km). The L-plan roadway system around the western and southern edges of the central business district extend and link three radial urban motorways (Tullamarine to the north and the airport, the Western and the Southeastern freeways) for the first time.
CityLink will be the first open road application of the new European standard 5.8GHz backscatter tags and Saabs machine vision equipment. Torontos 407 by contrast uses well proven 915MHz active tags, SEO lasers and Hughes Missiles pattern matching for imaging. And Toronto was able to draw on a bunch of hardened veterans from almost every ET-startup around the US in the previous decade for the 407 system integration work. In Melbourne those involved are doing it for the first time. And finding it a lot tougher than they expected.
In a notice to the Australian Stock Exchange mid-Oct Transurban said interface problems in the toll system could not be fixed as quickly as previously hoped and that it could give no date for the start of tolling. The companys concession provides that the road will be in full operation by June 2000, a deadline it seems in little danger of missing unless it imports a Bay area Caltrans/MFS team of ET experts, in which case everyone is advised to immediately dump their Transurban shares.