Protest over trucks to block bridge

A PLANNED blockade of one of Melbourne's main truck routes by local activists sick of neighbourhood truck traffic has turned spiteful.

A trucking industry heavyweight is threatening to sue the protesters and the industry body is calling for police to shut down the rally.

Residents of Melbourne's inner west will occupy busy Shepherd Bridge on Footscray Road for half an hour on November 27 - the date of the Baillieu government's second anniversary - blocking a key route to the port and CBD in the morning peak. A big band and giant puppets will join the protest.

''It's really not just a protest but also a celebration of community,'' said Peter Knight, spokesman for the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group, which is behind the protest.

But the Victorian Transport Association, which represents the freight and logistics industry, has labelled MTAG a ''radical group'' and has asked Victoria Police to ban the rally, in a call reminiscent of Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle's clampdown on the Occupy Melbourne protesters.

Victoria Police responded that the protesters had a right ''to express their views in a safe, lawful and orderly manner''.

''We think it's an irresponsible act by this so-called residents' group,'' the Victorian Transport Association's executive director, Neil Chambers, said. ''We're not even sure that MTAG has the support of many residents in the area.''

More than 8000 trucks a day cross the bridge, but Mr Chambers said the protest would not affect freight operators severely because they would use other roads, disrupting residents of the west as they drove to work.

''Bringing that major arterial to a standstill disadvantages the community that they say they're there to support,'' he said.

But MTAG's Mr Knight labelled Mr Chambers ''a puppet'' of the association's former executive director, Phil Lovel.

''Phil Lovel is the Vladimir Putin of Victorian transport,'' Mr Knight said. ''He's installed his new puppet but he's hanging around peering over his shoulder.''

Mr Lovel has threatened to sue MTAG after it announced ''good riddance'' on its website on learning last month of his resignation.

The group wants to see the return of the stalled $380 million truck action plan, which was designed to get trucks off residential streets by building off-ramps from the West Gate Freeway to Hyde Street in Yarraville.

The government has frozen the plan - a project of the former Brumby government - in favour of the proposed 18-kilometre east-west link from the Western Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway.

But Mr Chambers said the trucking industry also supported the moribund plan.

''The truck action plan would have been a good solution,'' Mr Chambers said. ''If the government builds the ramps … the transport industry would use them and it would take pressure off those other streets.''

At least 10,000 trucks use Francis Street and Somerville Road each day, and hundreds at night, when curfews exist.

This story Protest over trucks to block bridge first appeared on The Age.