History of the M3 Eastern Freeway
  Hoddle Street to Springvale Road
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Looking east from Chandler Highway overpass.
February 2008.
 
Written by Sam Laybutt
 
The Eastern Freeway is an 18 km radial freeway servicing the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, particularly the Bulleen, Doncaster, Box Hill and Nunawading areas. Presently the freeway extends from the Eastern Highway (Alexandra Pde) at Clifton Hill to Springvale Rd at Nunawading but construction is underway on an extension which will take the freeway a further 5 km to the Ringwood Bypass - its ultimate destination. With then traffic lanes between Hoddle St and Chandler Hwy the Eastern Freeway is Victoria’s widest freeway.  
History and Development
The Eastern Freeway did not appear in the 1929 Melbourne Plan of General Development, its catchment area instead to be served by the upgrading of Doncaster and Canterbury Roads. The Eastern first appeared in a formal plan in the 1954 Metropolitan Melbourne Planning Scheme as Route 19, a radial route following the Yarra River, Koonung Creek and Mullum Mullum Creek valleys between Route 2 at Clifton Hill and the Maroondah Highway at Ringwood. Planning studies for the freeway route were first undertaken in 1959 and this lead the establishment of a reservation in the same year.

The Metropolitan Transportation Committee’s 1969 report proposed the Eastern as route F19 - a six and eight lane freeway along the same alignment. However, the Ringwood Bypass section of the freeway was dropped - but remained as a proposed arterial road, instead its eastern end connected to a new route F35 - the Scoresby Freeway. At its eastern end, route F19 was proposed to run along Alexandra Parade to Wellington Street, slash through Fitzroy and Carlton to the corner of Lygon St and Queensberry Street, then parallel Queensberry Street slightly to north to connect with what is now the Western Link of Citylink (then route F14). There is nothing to suggest that the section of F19 west of Hoddle St was to be in a tunnel and there was no existing reservations as construction of this section would have invariably resulted in the demolition of a swathe of terraces.

Amidst a turbulent time for freeway construction the F19 east of Hoddle Street was approved in December 1970 following the exhibition of the planning scheme amendment. There is nothing in the plan to suggest why this route was given the priority it received over other routes, although Max Lay, author of Melbourne Miles: The Story of Melbourne’s Roads,  notes that in 1970 the Country Roads Board saw the freeway as a ‘logical development more beneficial to Ringwood-Mitcham than other alternatives’.[1] However, there was strong public opposition to the route which would consume a large swathe of parkland in the Yarra Valley. Dingle and Rasmussen, authors of Vital Connections: Melbourne and its Board of Works, note that “a large part of the problem, as far as critics [of the freeway plans] were concerned, was that the public was given insufficient details of alternative route before freeways were approved. The [Metropolitan and Melbourne Board of Works, constructing authority for the freeway at the time,] acted promptly once approval was given, to the frustration of those who were still disputing the government’s decision. In November 1971, the Board acted a little too promptly and bulldozed ten acres of the Yarra Bend Park in advance of the passage of the necessary enabling legislation. The outcry generated was symptomatic of the degree of passion surrounding the subject of freeways. ‘Consent by bulldozer’, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ trumpeted the Age. An acutely embarrassed government only narrowly averted a threat by its backbench to join the opposition to force a breach of parliamentary privilege inquiry. The action was an error of timing rather than a deliberate act of defiance, but it infuriated the Government.”[2]

In March 1973 Premier Rupert Hamer announced the cancellation of 150 miles of freeway from the Metropolitan Transportation Committee’s proposed 307 miles. Included in this announcement was the cancellation of the F19 west of Hoddle Street although in his announcement, Hamer endorsed construction of the F19 specifically to Bulleen Road and by implication to Ringwood.[3]  

In July 1974, midway through construction of the first stage of the Eastern Freeway, from Hoddle Street to Bulleen Road, the Metropolitan and Melbourne Board of Works was suddenly stripped of its road planning and construction powers, which were transferred to the Country Roads Board. Thus, the CRB became the new constructing authority for the Eastern Freeway and continued construction. Almost immediately the CRB set about creating a plan for metropolitan road construction and included in it the extension of the Eastern Freeway to Doncaster Road and, ultimately, Ringwood. In 1976, the Government adopted the recommendations of an Eastern Corridor Study, which recommended an immediate extension of the freeway to Doncaster Road and a long-term extension of to, and bypass of, Ringwood.
 

Meanwhile, construction of the first stage was progressing and public opposition was building. Following investigations in 1976 the Country Roads Board decided to upgrade Alexandra Parade, using land set aside in the Metropolitan Transportation Committee’s 1969 plan, to act as an approach to the freeway. Thus, the section of Alexandra Pde between Gold Street and Nicholson Street was declared a state highway - Eastern Highway - in October 1977 so that it would be completely a state responsibility. The decision to widen Alexandra Pde caused the anti-freeway protests to boil over and in 1976 protesters built a symbolic brick wall across Alexandra Parade at the beginning of the freeway. Nonetheless the freeway went ahead and the CRB opened it to traffic in three stages during December 1977; firstly from Hoddle St to Chandler Hwy; then to Burke Rd; then to Bulleen Rd.


Construction began soon after on an extension, labelled in many Vicroads publications from the time as an ‘arterial road extension’, to Doncaster Road. This four-lane (later widened to 6) 5km extension was opened to traffic on 3 June 1982. The Bulleen Road interchange remained a half-diamond until the freeway was later extended to Springvale Road.

Extension of the freeway to Springvale Road and Ringwood was the subject of a period of considerable public debate and conflicting reviews. In 1985 the Road Construction Authority undertook an Eastern Corridor Road Action Study which recommended construction of the route. In 1987 an Environmental Effects Statement was undertaken for an extension to Maroondah Hwy at Ringwood. The EES raised public concerns about a perceived loss of amenity as well as the concept of building radial freeways. In 1990 the freeway extension, this time only as far as Springvale Road, was recommended by an independent panel. In 1992 the extension to Ringwood was given planning approval and the decision was made to construct it in two stages: firstly to Springvale Road (in conjunction with the section of Ringwood Bypass between Ringwood St and Maroondah Highway); and secondly the section between Springvale Rd and Ringwood. Construction was commenced soon afterwards and the first stage - to Springvale Road - was opened to traffic in December 1997. This stage also involved the widening of the Bulleen Road-Doncaster Road section to six lanes, the provision of east-facing ramps at Bulleen Road interchange and the widening of Alexandra Pde from four to six lanes.
 
Proposed route outlined in the 1987 Environmental Effects Statement
The Extension to Ringwood
Further extension from Springvale Road to Ringwood stalled in the face of community and environmental opposition of the route through the Mullum Mullum Creek Valley. Preliminary works were commenced in February 1998 but a change of government in 1999 resulted in a halt in construction and a further study of route options. In October 2000 a route incorporating a 1.5km tunnel between Park Road and Deep Creek Road to preserve the Mullum Mullum Creek Valley was adopted, with an announced completion date of mid-2005, however in September 2002 - before contracts had been awarded for construction of the road - the Government announced the Eastern Freeway Extension works would be combined with those of the Scoresby Freeway and delivered by a Private-Public Partnership arrangement similar to Citylink.

The new project, duly named the Mitcham-Frankston Freeway (then Tollway, and now Eastlink), was eligible for federal funding under the Roads of National Importance program. Indeed the former federal Transport Minister, John Anderson, signed a document allocating $542 million towards a toll-free Scoresby Freeway. However, the State Government decision to finance the project through private-sector tolling means the Federal Government will no longer contribute any money to the project. Nonetheless, construction of the fully-electronic tollway began in March 2005 and has a completion date set at 2008. 
Eastern Freeway to Tullamarine Freeway Corridor
The western end of the Eastern Freeway at Alexandra Parade has long been a bottleneck, especially in the morning peak, with traffic sometimes queuing as far back as Chandler Highway. One recurring proposal to cure such congestion is construction of a tunnel between the Eastern and Tullamarine Freeways. However, such a proposal would be very expensive and some studies have quoted that less than 15% of the traffic on the freeway, including trucks, wishes to travel to the Tullamarine Freeway or further west and it seems the remainder is destined for the CBD or the inner suburbs. The latest such proposal, released by Melbourne City Council in August 2005, is for an ‘East-West Integrated Transport Corridor’ which would see $10 billion in works including:
  • A passenger rail line running from Doncaster to North Melbourne Station, utilising the Eastern Freeway median between Doncaster Road and Hoddle Street.
  • A road tunnel beginning at the end of the Eastern Freeway at Hoddle Street and travelling beneath the inner northern and western suburbs to meet the Western Ring Road at Deer Park.
  • An inner-west freight tunnel, to replace the Bunbury Street tunnel, to allow more movement of cargo from the docks.

According to the article in The Age[4] “the plan would need to be implemented by the State Government and funded by government money, tolls and a possible London-style congestion tax”.  


An investigation into a proposed tunnel between the Eastern Freeway and Flemington Bridge was undertaken in 2004 and the project rejected on a cost-benefit analysis. Simply, Vicroads did not believe there would be enough traffic using the new tunnel to make it economically viable.

In 2008, the Eddington Report was released with the tunnel proposed as a key transport link. As of June 2008, the state goverment has not yet given confirmation of whether this tunnel, most likely funded through tolls, would go ahead. Since the report's release, there has been public opposition from the residents in the affected areas over the lost of public amenities as a result of the proposed tunnel.
 
 

[1] Lay, M.; Melbourne Miles: The Story of Melbourne’s Roads; 2003; p.209
[2] Dingle, T. & Rasmussen, C.; Vital Connections: Melbourne and its Board of Works; 1994; p.318-319
[3] Lay, M.; Melbourne Miles: The Story of Melbourne’s Roads; 2003; p.209
[4] “$10 billion tunnel plan to beat city gridlock”; The Age 31 August 2005 (http://theage.com.au/articles/2005/08/30/1125302570130.html)

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