Why does the Western Ring Road narrow at Sunshine Avenue?

If you have ever had the misfortune to drive along the Western Ring Road, you may have noticed the inconsistent provision of lanes along the way: one minute you have four lanes to pick between, then all of a sudden you are forced back to just two. So what gives?

Northbound on the Western Ring Road at the Calder Freeway

The story starts back in the 1990s, when the Western Ring Road was built. The first section of the freeway opened to traffic in 1992, with further sections being progressively opened to traffic, with the last section being completed in 1999. The majority of the road had two lanes in each direction.

Northbound on the Western Ring Road at Sunshine Avenue

The exception being a few short sections near interchanges, where three lanes were provided.

Western Ring Road Greensborough bound at Sydney Road

Widening of the road commenced in 2009 as part of a $2.25 billion dollar project, with three sections completed so far:

  • Calder Freeway to Sydney Road, completed by the ‘Tulla Sydney Alliance’ in May 2013
  • Western Highway to Sunshine Avenue, completed October 2013
  • Edgars Road to Plenty Road, completed April 2014

These sections are now three to four lanes wide, leaving four sections of freeway in the pipeline for future upgrades:

  • Sunshine Avenue to Calder Freeway
  • Princes Highway to Western Highway
  • Sydney Road to Edgar Road
  • Plenty Road to Greensborough Highway

Money from the Commonwealth Government was allocated to widening the Sunshine Avenue to Calder Freeway segment in 2013, but in April 2014 the Abbott Government diverted the funding to the since-aborted East West Link project.

Federal government diverts ring road funding to East West Link
James Massola, Josh Gordon
April 28, 2014

State Transport Minister Terry Mulder and former federal transport minister Anthony Albanese last year promised that motorists travelling on the M80 Ring Road between Sunshine Avenue and Ballarat Road would enjoy a safer ride, with a third lane in each direction to improve traffic flows.

It followed an announcement in the 2013 federal budget setting aside an extra $525 million to complete the project, which was expected to cost $2.25 billion.

The ramifications of the decision to divert $500 million from the project into the second stage of the East West Link are unclear. A final section of the project, upgrading the Metropolitan Ring Road between Edgars Road and Plenty Road, was due to be completed by mid-2014.

So this leaves us in the state we are two – two lanes in each direction on the Western Ring Road between Sunshine Avenue to Calder Freeway, and Tony Abbott saying $1.5 billion in promised federal funding to Victoria is now in a “locked box“.

Some movement

I first started writing this post back a few months ago, but now it is out of date – on May 29 the Abbott Government announced that they would chip in $150 million towards the upgrade of the forgotten section of the Western Ring Road – matching the $150 million already committed by the State Government to widen the road to three lanes, as well as installing overhead variable speed limit signs.


In 2001 transport and planning academic Paul Mees published the short paper The short term effects of Melbourne’s Western Ring Road, in which he analysed the claimed economic benefits delivered by the construction of the freeway.

Given the geography of the area, I can’t imagine getting around Melbourne’s west without the Ring Road, but I still wonder how long it will take until the road lobby calls out for yet more lanes to be added.

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21 Responses to “Why does the Western Ring Road narrow at Sunshine Avenue?”

  1. TheLoadedDog says:

    When I drive to Melbourne, I notice that Melbourne drivers are much the same as Sydney ones. The same general level of incompetence, but nothing outstanding. Except for one place – that damn ring road. Something happens to people’s brains on that thing. I’m not a nervous driver, and big city traffic doesn’t faze me, but that road freaks me out. Then I’ve travelled on other freeways in Melbourne, and everything’s fine. I have no idea what it is about the Ring Road, but it’s a white-knuckle ride, and I’m always glad to be off the thing.

    • Beren Scott says:

      It’s because the ring road is so low socio it’s not funny. It’s full of tight arses avoiding the bolte bridge.

      • Marcus Wong says:

        If you are already in the western suburbs of Melbourne, you have to intentionally go out of your way to use the Bolte Bridge – it doesn’t lead anywhere useful – just the CityLink tunnels and the south-eastern suburbs.

        In most cases, your only option is to head out of town towards the Ring Road, follow it around the city, then head in again – thanks to the Maribyrnong River there aren’t many other north-south routes on the west side of Melbourne.

        • Andrew S says:

          Anecdotally I know quite a few people from my part of the world who use Dandenong Road-Westgate Fwy-M80 Ring Road to avoid Citylink tolls to the airport!

    • Evan says:

      It’s our F3.

    • Julian Calaby says:

      Be glad you don’t drive the Princes Freeway between Geelong and Melbourne, it makes the ring road look positively sedate.

  2. Kevin says:

    Plenty Rd to Greensborough Hwy would probably be part of any North East Link project connecting Ring Road to Eastern Fwy.

  3. Beren Scott says:

    I don’t think it really matters a great deal when you consider that the freeway is 2 lanes over the bridge, and that isn’t that far away. The widening is mostly needed at the interchanges. I think that the road is still mostly a 2 lane road, given the number of 2 lane bottle necks along it.

  4. Graham B says:

    I think that the issue is less the fact that there are four lanes in one place down to two lanes a bit further on, it’s the lack of consistency of road space. For an occasional user such as myself it is a difficult road to navigate in heavy traffic.

  5. Andrew S says:

    Probably done quite deliberately to force funding to complete the widening. I remember hearing somewhere the same thing happened when they built the Ring Road in the first place – deliberately leaving the section from Calder Fwy to Tullamarine Fwy last to force funding and complete the road.

    The section from the Tullamarine Freeway to Hume Highway opened 1992-93 was funded by the Feds first (back in the Keating government with two narrow lanes each way to reduce costs – the Federal Funding came as it was part of the National Highway) with other sections opening later.

    It should be said that it was probably the catalyst for a lot of development in the outer west – Going to Ballarat via the Westgate Freeway involved backtracking via Dohertys Road – Fitzgerald Road – Boundary Road – Robinsons Road to the Western Highway. Nothing but dry stone walls pre- Ring Road when suddenly industrial estates sprung up. Housing estates followed but are generally more constrained to be nearer the suburban rail corridors (hence little development along the Melton line and general lack of historical spread west of Melbourne). Given that Diggers Rest will probably be a target of rezoning and subdivision in the not too distant future.

    I’m not the world’s most devout follower of the late Paul Mees (a solicitor of all things turned ‘transport expert’) – sometimes he was right on the money, but not always. I doubt they will call for more lanes any time soon (given particularly structures like the Jacana tunnel are maxed out anyway) – there will probably be an eventual push for the Outer Metropolitan Ring Road but given it is in the middle of paddocks currently that will be years away! In the meanwhile I’d think the North East Link would be the focus of lobbying as would East West depending on how long the current State Government lasts.

  6. Adam says:

    One thing that has always perplexed me is why does Kelior Park Drive get dedicated access to the Ring Rd?

    Why not put ramp meters on the entry points (nth and sth) so that the 3 lanes of the RR can continue unaffected?
    You could easily remove the emergency lanes (repaint) under Kelior Park Drive. This would provide an additional lane for 2.5kms in each direction – between Calder and EJ Whitten Bridge.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      My guess is that the close spacing of interchanges between Sunshine Avenue and the Calder Freeway was a contributing factor to the original design – by adding an extra lane, dodging and weaving in the inner lane could be reduced.

      • Adam says:

        Yes its most likely a safety issue/salami tactics however,

        heading Altona bound, the M80 goes from 4 lanes just before the Calder interchange to 2 which is fair enough (for now) as Calder traffic should have a dedicated lane onto the M80. This creates 3 lanes heading to Kelior Park Drive (KPD).

        Then these 3 lanes are reduced again to 2, onwards to the EJ Whitten bridge.

        Essentially the M80 goes from 4 lanes to 1 (assuming 1 of the two lanes reaches ‘capacity’ caused by entering traffic from the Calder – which is probably not the case, so this is an extreme example).

        Yes it is Micky Mouse stuff (i.e. relatively cheap compared to a full upgrade), but if the 3 lanes prior KPD could be allowed to continue unabated onto EJW bridge (by occupying the emergency lanes and ramp metering KPD) it would limit (significantly???) the bottleneck by maintaining the 2 lanes of M80 traffic and 1 lane of Calder.

        I found this video to remind me as I’m not a frequent commuter of this road. Nonetheless, the above is always a tad frustrating when I do use it
        If anybody decides to play the video I recommend it at 0.25 speed – to represent the reality on this stretch of road.

    • Mick says:

      I’m replying to this at the time that the government has almost completed the widening project between the Calder fwy to Sunshine Ave over the ej whitten bridge. Unfortunately the m80 (ring Rd) has no exit ramp for the Calder outbound and from the Calder inbound to the m80 Altona bound probably due to space constraints around the Calder m80 interchange. The Keilor dve entry ramp to the m80 Altona bound will still have a dedicated entry ramp Lane which will be the 5th lane and will run over the ej whitten bridge and exit and Sunshine Ave. The same will happen from Sunshine Ave to Keilor park dve outbound on the m80 as the 5th lane. The proximity of these 2 interchanges and the fact that it runs over a long bridge on the m80 were most likely factors into keeping a dedicated lane in each direction. Can’t wait till it’s done although I have heard that they will be widening the m80 either between the hume fwy and Sydney Rd or between tilburn Rd overpass and the Westgate fwy. Victorias big build is a big pain in the arse.

  7. […] back in the 1990s, it was widened in stages from 2009, with the final section completed in 2018. How long until the next […]

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