By Rowan Forster
The Liberal Party has trashed the Premier’s “second-rate” sky rail proposal for Pakenham, unveiling a commitment to eliminate the suburb’s three notorious level crossings with an underground rail trench if elected.
Level crossings at McGregor Road, Main Street and Racecourse Road would be scrapped and Pakenham Station upgraded to cater for high-speed rail under the State Opposition’s pledge.
Doubling down on Labor’s promise, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy also said his government would eradicate one of Pakenham’s worst bottlenecks.
At the bustling intersection of Racecourse Road and Bald Hill Road, one thoroughfare would be raised or lowered beneath the other, in a long-awaited grade separation.
It comes during Star News Group’s Unblock the Gridlock campaign, highlighting the plight of road infrastructure and crippling congestion across Melbourne’s south east.
One day after Daniel Andrews promised to remove four level crossings in Pakenham and develop the controversial sky rail, Mr Guy outlined his party’s “superior” solution.
“We won’t put a blight on Pakenham with sky rail,” he said.
“Traffic is out of control in Pakenham and we need to get back in control.
“When you remove level crossings you need to do it properly – not on the cheap.
“We’ll do it properly, for the longer term, and not just the short term political hit that the government’s proposal is.”
The proposal – described as fast, European style rail – will provide two dedicated V/Line services and two metropolitan services.
Following in Mr Andrews’ footsteps, the party also failed to provide a cost estimate for the project.
Shadow Public Transport Minister David Davis assured they will be appropriate.
“We will in fact make sure the costs are reasonable and it will come out of our relevant fund,” he said.
“Our costings will be there prior to the election.”
Mr Davis went on to label Labor’s proposed strategy as an “ugly scar” on the community.
“(This) is quieter, it is less intrusive, it is less ugly,” he said.
“Imagine the streets in Pakenham with these massive concrete structures going overhead.
“We have to build with an eye to the future, not a cheap, nasty solution.”
When asked, the Shadow Public Transport Minister did not provide a timeline for the project.
Up to 63,000 vehicles pass through the four Pakenham level crossings every day.
Pakenham Harcourts property valuer Boyd Jones told the Gazette that the Andrews Government’s sky rail will wreak havoc on property values.
“We believe the sky rail would decrease values for property around the area,” he said.
“An underground option is definitely something that would be better for our community as far as sales prices and results
“It is important we protect the community’s assets – and their homes are the most valuable things out here.
The race to triumph in November’s state election is gathering pace with caretaker mode kicking in this week.
According to the Victorian Electoral Commission, the Liberals hold the Bass electorate by 4.6 per cent.
Labor strategists have reportedly set their sights on the seat, encouraged by a surge in new voter enrolments they believe will favour Daniel Andrews.
Incumbent MP Brian Paynter, who has relentlessly campaigned for a solution to Pakenham’s traffic gridlock, lashed the proposition of sky rail.
“Going underground is the right way to do it,” he said.
“We don’t need and we don’t deserve nasty, noisy sky rail here in Pakenham.
“We deserve the very best, and that’s what is being delivered today.”
Mr Paynter also addressed the State Government’s short-sighted decision to shut down a Pakenham sky rail infrastructure facility earlier this year.
The factory was built for the sole purpose of casting custom-sized concrete pieces for sky rail.
“That was a $25 million factory handed back to the developer which is merely 500 metres from where the Premier yesterday announced sky rail,” he said.
“What a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“This is policy on the run.”
Residents have been divided about the prospect of a behemoth sky rail running through the heart of Pakenham.
Claire Simpson, who lives near the rail corridor, fears her privacy will be completely invaded.
“I can’t even begin to say how angry I am,” she said.
“Everybody will be able to see into our yard and our view will be destroyed by all of this concrete.
“It’s enough to make me consider moving.”
Those against the underground rail proposal were mainly concerned about cost.
“This is going to cost so much time and money, much more than a sky rail,” Brayden Muir said.
“I have to worry about how long we’d be waiting – dealing with the current traffic – until this is complete.”