Melbourne’s northern suburbs suffer from lack of federal funding with rail, road and bus services straining under population growth

“We’ve had a big interruption to work and travel because of the pandemic,” Terrill said. “In a lot of ways, the best solution to particular pressure points is to go with more flexible short-term solutions but to keep your options open.”

Federal Labor committed $2 billion to the first stage of the Suburban Rail Loop, in the ultra-marginal eastern suburbs seat of Chisholm, despite the project not being assessed by Infrastructure Australia. (The Andrews government submitted the Suburban Rail Loop for assessment to Infrastructure Australia last year.)

Yet infrastructure upgrades in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs, identified by the independent body, were missing from this year’s election campaign. (Both federal Labor and the Coalition were contacted for comment.)

Infrastructure has not kept pace with Melbourne’s rapidly growing outer north. Credit:Paul Rovere

But councils in Melbourne’s north have a long list of priority projects they want state and federal governments to start building. Whittlesea Council wants the train line extended to Wollert, upgrades to Epping Road, and a commitment from the federal government to undertake a business case into the E6 Freeway and the Outer Metropolitan Ring Road.

Hume Council wants a Bulla bypass, upgrades to the Hume Freeway, several arterial roads duplicated, the Upfield railway line extended to Wallan, more frequent bus services, and money for local projects to relieve congestion.

Mitchell Shire, which takes in the booming suburbs of Beveridge and Wallan, wants the rail line between Beveridge and Wallan electrified, construction to begin on major arterial roads to connect Wallan to Craigieburn, and a Kilmore bypass on the Northern Highway.

The councils all spoke of the pressures their communities are under. The combined population of a handful of fast-growing neighbouring suburbs in Mitchell, Hume and Whittlesea will be larger than the population of Canberra within a decade.

While that growth will bring opportunities, Mitchell mayor Bill Chisholm said it would also place enormous strain on already under pressure infrastructure and services.

“Inadequate road and public transport infrastructure hinders our community’s ability to access jobs, essential services such as GP visits or educational opportunities,” said Hume Mayor Carly Moore.

A Victorian government spokeswoman said the Metro Tunnel would increase capacity on the Upfield line by 71 per cent and the Craigieburn line by 27 per cent, while 13 level crossings have been removed with eight more to go. She said the Morrison government refused to fund any rail projects in Victoria.

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“Whether it’s building the Mernda extension, or delivering upgrades to key suburban roads we’re helping deliver more trains and slash travel times throughout Melbourne’s north,” the spokeswoman said.

“Metro Tunnel will deliver more capacity for the north and Suburban Rail Loop will deliver more connections from Broadmeadows across Melbourne.”

The opposition’s transport infrastructure spokesman, Matthew Bach, said the Andrews government needed to develop a transport plan to identify the gaps in infrastructure projects.

“Then you’d be able to isolate pockets where infrastructure lets people down including in Melbourne’s north that’s growing quickly,” Bach said. “One of the key reasons [the Coalition] continues to back the East West Link is because that will deal with much congestion to the near north of the city.”

But travelling in Melbourne’s north remains “painful and frustrating”, Tamara Nolan says, with no end in sight.

“Most of the residents here are young families, and they just want to get home to their kids, but can sometimes be stuck in traffic for an hour just to get home,” Nolan said, as she pleaded with political parties to address the issues.

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