The new Victorian government releasing confidential Cabinet documents relating to the East-West Link project business case has unleashed a storm of controversy, with the documents showing the project would have increased congestion at key points, taken more than half a century to pay back and was less viable in cost–benefit terms than the scrapped Melbourne Metro rail project.

Reports on the leaked papers state the initial cost–benefit analysis showed only a 45 cent return for every dollar spent. The Age reports this business case was not even submitted to Infrastructure Australia by the Napthine government due to concerns it “may be used as justification for not supporting the project”.

A revised business case that factored in “wider economic benefits”, including an assumption the six kilometre road would result in people working longer hours and paying more tax, bumped up the return to 84 cents in every dollar. A third try, which factored in a number of new satellite projects, including widening CityLink, the Tullamarine Freeway, the Eastern Freeway and upgrading north and south tram and bus services, calculated a positive return of $1.45 for every dollar invested. Even so, it would have taken 56 years to pay off. This is incidentally twice as long as the forecasting period that frames Plan Melbourne, so we can probably assume the modelling of how the road might serve the community in 2060 when it was still being paid for was not even done.

This final and most optimistic cost–benefit analysis was called into question when last month the ABC reported on emails between senior transport planners in the Victorian government that the scrapped Melbourne Metro project would return $1.90 per dollar compared to the East-West Link’s $1.45.

And while there is agreement Melbourne’s sprawl and poor east-west connectivity are a problem, the business case documents state that congestion at key points such as CityLink would increase, and that the percentage of commuters who would therefore experience slower travel times and traffic bottlenecks would be greater than those who would theoretically benefit from the link.

“The project is expected to benefit a number of users. However, at the same time, it will increase traffic at already congested locations (on the Eastern and Tullamarine freeways in particular), which erodes the overall project benefit–cost ratio,” the business case stated.

It also stated that, “While East-West Link users are expected to receive considerable benefits from using the project, the other CBD-oriented traffic is likely to receive a disbenefit due to marginally increased travel times created by the additional traffic.”

Traffic modelling for the road showed that 13 per cent of traffic exiting the Eastern Freeway in the morning peak was bound for the western suburbs or Melbourne Airport, compared to 27 per cent headed for the CBD, 27 per cent for the inner north and six per cent to suburbs south of the Yarra River.

The Andrews government has already formally requested in writing that all work cease immediately on the project, and has announced that homes and other properties that were either compulsorily acquired or voluntarily acquired for the project would potentially be used to house homeless persons and families in need.

Mr Andrews told The Age that the dwellings, located in Clifton Hill, Collingwood, Parkville, Kensington and Moonee Ponds, could be made available as soon as Christmas, but that first those who had vacated the homes would be given the option of moving back in.

The entire business case and supporting documents are freely available on the Victorian Premier’s website here.