AUSTRALIA: The Victorian government has released a report by Sir Rod Eddington setting out an A$18bn plan to tackle Melbourne's rapidly increasing transport gridlock.

Roads are increasingly congested, while the demand for public transport has caught the government and private operators by surprise, with peak hour trains and trams severely overcrowded.

Eddington's key solution in Investing in Transport is to construct a A$9bn road tunnel running 18 km under the city from east to west, and a 17 km rail tunnel linking Footscray in the west with Caulfield in the east. Costing between A$7·5bn and A$8·5bn, this would relieve the congested City Loop.

The report recommends a rail link between Werribee and Deer Park to serve the rapidly growing western suburbs, and the electrification of the existing railway to Sunbury. Instead of a much-anticipated rail link to Doncaster in the east, the blueprint calls for a rapid bus service.

To meet the government's desire to increase rail's share of freight traffic, Eddington recommends expanding the standard gauge network to connect the interstate intermodal terminal with key metropolitan freight hubs.

Controversially, the report suggests that financing will need to come from state and federal government, public-private partnerships and tolls, with a possible levy on business and public transport users to pay for the rail tunnel.

The state government has invited public comment by July 15, and will announce its decision on the recommendations later this year.

Eddington said he was certain he had identified the core problems, and the city had no choice but to act. 'The evidence is clear that failing to take action will undermine Melbourne's future prosperity and reduce the benefits being generated by the city's growth and development', he said. 'The cost of improving these transport connections is substantial, but the cost of inaction is far greater.'