The scale of traffic problems to be caused by the Perth waterfront redevelopment emerged yesterday when the State Government flagged plans to expand the Graham Farmer Freeway tunnel to six lanes to cope with the flood of cars pushed off Riverside Drive.
The plan to convert the tunnel's emergency lanes to traffic lanes was labelled reckless by the Opposition and prompted an RAC safety warning.
"The Perth waterfront development will clearly impact on the 24,000 vehicles per day which utilise Riverside Drive," Transport Minister Troy Buswell said.
"The State Government is planning for modifications to the Graham Farmer Freeway, including the addition of a third lane to the Northbridge tunnel, to assist in the orderly flow of traffic around the city."
Main Roads said the tunnel could easily accommodate a third lane each way using the emergency lanes.
"Obviously one lane will be taken up but we have in place a 24-hour towing service strictly for the tunnel so we can move disabled vehicles fairly quickly," a spokesman said.
RAC head of member advocacy Matt Brown raised concerns about how quickly emergency services could enter the tunnel once the stopping lanes were lost.
"In terms of a road safety side of things, in an ideal world you wouldn't want to lose an emergency lane," he said.
"There are examples elsewhere in Australia and around the world where they have converted emergency lanes into traffic lanes but they have had very robust incident management plans.
"They also make use of intelligent traffic systems.
"It can be done but it's not ideal."
Mr Brown said the tunnel was designed to be expanded to cope with congestion from population growth, not increased traffic from planning changes.
"If the Government is now saying expanding or widening the tunnel is our answer to Riverside Drive, that leaves some very big question marks about what happens when the population grows," he said. "The Graham Farmer Freeway tunnel alone shouldn't be seen as a quick fix to the Riverside Drive issue because all that will do is push the issue and the cost on to a future government."
Opposition Leader Eric Ripper said the change was reckless and stupid.
Mr Barnett said Riverside Drive would not be touched until 2013.
"In the meantime, the Government will have time to look at any re-routing and changing of roads in the central city area," he said.