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Rethinking the Cost of Traffic Congestion, Lessons from Melbourne's City Link Toll Roads

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In Australia, building transport infrastructure, traditionally new and better roads, to relieve congestion is an abiding political priority with serious consequences for the shaping of Australian cities. The economic cost of congestion is held to justify vast expenditure on road infrastructure and Australia is conventionally thought to lag the world in this respect. However, the calculation of the cost of congestion is fraught with problems and a degree of complexity that does not support this storyline. In this article, we review the arguments around congestion costing and travel time saving, and consider the case of the City Link toll roads in Melbourne, Australia. The authors find that assumptions about the ‘base case’ against which the ‘project case’ (building City Link) was compared in a benefit–cost analysis are seriously flawed. Despite constant road building activity in Melbourne, traffic speeds have declined and the promised ‘time savings’ have not eventuated, though motorists travelled further. The authors conclude that attention should now turn to relieving congestion through improving public transport.
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Keywords: Transport discourse; barriers to sustainable transport; traffic congestion cost

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia 2: School of Business, IT and Logistics, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: 2012-06-01

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