A transport expert whose views Daniel Andrews used in opposition to berate the former Napthine government over the East West Link is the latest traffic engineer to cast doubt on Labor’s West Gate Tunnel project.
As opposition leader, Mr Andrews in 2013 attacked former premier Denis Napthine in Parliament after it was revealed that VicRoads traffic manager Douglas Harley had said the benefits of the proposed East West Link were inflated.
“How does the premier justify ignoring completely this damning criticism from a senior VicRoads expert, Mr Doug Harley?” Mr Andrews demanded of Dr Napthine.
Current Treasurer Tim Pallas and Roads Minister Luke Donnellan also used Mr Harley’s criticisms of the East West Link to attack the former government.
Now, Mr Harley – who spent 27 years at VicRoads before leaving in 2013 after expressing his doubts over Dr Napthine’s toll road – has appeared at hearings into the proposed $5.5 billion West Gate Tunnel.
Mr Harley said he was extremely concerned about the methods used to compile traffic projections for the West Gate Tunnel – which are being done by the same companies and public servants that worked on the East West Link.
He is the third highly experienced traffic modeller to express concerns about the data used to justify the road.
But while the other two experts worked directly on the project, Mr Harley did not.
He no longer works in transport. His concern was with secrecy surrounding how the numbers had been produced.
“It is a secretive model that cannot be checked or assessed by anyone else,” Mr Harley said.
He said the transport modelling being used for the West Gate Tunnel was done by a private firm, whose work could not be scrutinised even by many within the government.
This was despite there also being a publicly owned traffic modelling system, paid for by taxpayers.
“Computer programmers know: garbage in, garbage out,” he said.
“I can’t say whether the results that it’s producing are good or bad, because I cannot operate it,” he said of the private modelling used to justify the West Gate Tunnel.
Mr Harley pointed out that only those with highly guarded access could assess the modelling.
“We’re spending taxpayers dollars, and I always understood that should be open to review and scrutiny so you don’t get corruption in the system,” he said.
Mr Harley conceded he had not read the West Gate Tunnel’s 10,000-page environmental effects statement, nor the publicly available traffic report.
On Sunday, Fairfax Media asked Mr Andrews whether he stood by his 2013 comments in Parliament about Mr Harley.
A spokesman for the Premier said Mr Harley “quite rightly spoke out against [the East West Link] – it was a rip-off”.
But Mr Andrews’ spokesman said Mr Harley had not worked on the West Gate Tunnel, “and his submission to the inquiry concedes that he does not have enough information about the [traffic modelling for the road] to assess it”.
Mr Harley was giving evidence at environmental effects hearings into the toll road, which finish on Tuesday after five weeks.
The opposition branded Mr Andrews a hypocrite, and said Mr Harley’s emergence as the third traffic expert to question the West Gate Tunnel’s business case was serious.
“For Daniel Andrews to dismiss Mr Harley’s serious concerns when it suits him shows our Premier as being a rolled-gold hypocrite,” opposition roads spokesman Ryan Smith said.
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