Today it is hard to imagine getting around the western suburbs of Melbourne without the Western Ring Road, but there was a time it didn’t exist – with the first stage opened in 1992.
Let us start by taking a look at the incomplete interchange between the Tullamarine Freeway and the Western Ring Road at Airport West.
The intent of the initial stage of the Western Ring Road was to provide an alternate truck route between the Hume Highway and the Melbourne CBD, so the first section to open linked the Tullamarine Freeway and Pascoe Vale Road in 1992, followed by Pascoe Vale Road to Sydney Road in 1993.
I have hazy memories of childhood visits to Melbourne Airport, where on the way we passed beneath the incomplete freeway interchange.
In the years that followed, further sections of the Ring Road were opened in a piecemeal fashion:
- 1994: Greenborough Bypass to Plenty Road,
- July 1995: Ballarat Road to Keilor Park Drive,
- March 1996: Boundary Road to Ballarat Road,
- October 1996: Princes Freeway to Boundary Road.
- December 1996: Calder Freeway to Keilor Park Drive
As you can expect, a ring road that doesn’t form a complete ring isn’t very useful, so for many years the Tullamarine Freeway interchange remained in the state seen above.
Change finally came in 1997 when the ‘missing link’ of the Western Ring Road opened between the Tullamarine Freeway and the Calder Freeway, and the interchange took on a form that lasted just on 15 years.
The round of expansion in 1997 added new ramps to/from Melbourne Airport and the Western Ring Road towards Altona, the second of two 40 km/h limited ‘cloverleaf‘ ramps, and a pair of bridges to carry the collector/distributor lanes for southbound Ring Road traffic accessing the Tullamarine Freeway.
In the years that followed, the explosive growth in traffic using the Ring Road overwhelmed the interchange, in 2013 the interchange was expanded yet again as part of the M80 Ring Road upgrade project.
Changes to the interchange included:
- widening the Western Ring Road from two to four lanes in each direction,
- replacing the cloverleaf carrying southbound traffic from the Tullamarine Freeway to the westbound Ring Road by a new ramp flying over the top of the rest of the interchange,
- the southbound collector/distributor lane arrangement was replaced by a simpler ‘exit only’ setup,
- a new flyover was introduced north of the interchange to untangle northbound traffic bound for the Pascoe Vale Road exit from through traffic.
I wonder how long the current Western Ring Road interchange will remain in place, before it too becomes overwhelmed by induced traffic?
In 2001 Paul Mees published the paper ‘The short term effects of Melbourne’s Western Ring Road‘ examined the effects of the freeway opening on economic growth in Melbourne’s west.