Concern is mounting among Sorrento residents as they absorb the implications of the proposed new ferry terminal and study some of the claims made to gain public support for the $17 million project.

Among the claims raising eyebrows are statements from Searoad Ferries suggesting that the project will “reduce road congestion” and will “support the Sorrento community to manage the predicted growth in visitor numbers”.

Sorrentonew-new terminalMany Sorrento residents feel they already have sufficient visitor numbers.

Locals’ major concerns are the likelihood that ferry traffic will increase vehicle numbers beyond the township’s capacity – they seriously question Searoad’s claim that road congestion will be reduced – and that the new facility will provide the jobs and the “major economic boost” suggested for the region.

They are similarly dubious about Searoad’s prediction that “If the proposal attracts community and government support it will include significant funding for upgrades for infrastructure along the Esplanade and to the Sorrento foreshore”.

Sorrentonew-plan-1The shire officers’ report to councillors on 26 April hinted strongly that more vehicles are expected to use Searoad’s ferries, or additional craft will ply the Queenscliff-Sorrento run. This makes sense for an operator outlaying $30 million in total for what the report described as “tourism precincts” on both sides of Port Phillip Bay.

The report states that the new precincts “have been designed to cater for the future travel requirements of visitors, in order to increase visitation to the Mornington Peninsula Shire and broader regions”.

This suggests the terminals are designed for an increase in ferry patronage and echoes the long-standing vision of cross-bay ferries linking to an expanded Stony Point-Phillip Island service, from which tourists could continue a Victorian coastal tour that starts in South Australia.

Bass Coast Shire, which includes Phillip Island, enthused about this in 2009.

Sorrentonew-to ferry boardingIt would, Bass Coast’s website said then, “create a world class tourism route linking the Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula, Phillip Island/Bass Coast, Wilsons Promontory, Gippsland Lakes and Sydney-Melbourne Coastal Drive and has the potential to further stimulate local and regional economic activity”.

No mention has been made in the current proposal for establishing the Phillip Island link. But, were such a proposal to surface, it exacerbates traffic problems in and out of Sorrento and adjacent townships such as Blairgowrie and Rye.

Traffic has only two routes available in and out of Sorrento. Point Nepean Rd follows the coast north and Melbourne Rd terminates at Rye, offering motorists a return to Point Nepean Rd or a detour inland to Browns Rd.

A series of single-lane roads meanders across the peninsula to Stony Point’s modest ferry terminal that takes passengers to Cowes on the north coast of Phillip Island. Creating a suitable link road from Sorrento would be a massive, and massively expensive, undertaking.

Sorrentonew-existing layoutBut back to Sorrento: Searoad says the new two-storey terminal will include “a retail area for ticketing, tourism ventures and refreshments” and a museum.

Plans show a 170-seat café on the ground floor and a second 112-seat facility on floor above, from which foot passengers board the ferries across a gantry. “Licensed premises” are also mentioned in an accompanying document.

The terminal plans indicate a larger vehicle car park but Bandicoot could find no mention of its capacity. The ferries MV Sorrento and MV Queenscliff can each carry 80 vehicles or a combination of cars and larger vehicles such as trucks and buses. Both can accommodate 700 passengers.

SORRENTO - CAFE GRND FLOORAt 12 crossings a day for each ferry, that equals just under 2000 cars a day leaving or arriving in Sorrento.

Shire officers say the terminal’s design is aimed at streamlining vehicle movements into and out of the Sorrento ferry terminal. This will require some traffic changes to prevent bottlenecks, the major one occurring at the intersection of Point Nepean Rd and The Esplanade, where ferry-bound traffic on Point Nepean Rd turns right into the Esplanade to await the ferry.

Right-hand turns will be banned from The Esplanade into Point Nepean Rd. All traffic must head towards Blairgowrie. Those wishing to go to central Sorrento can turn right at Coppin Rd then again at Constitution Hill Rd to reach Ocean Beach Rd.

Sorrentonew-street layoutAlternatively, traffic leaving the terminal can turn right into Hotham Rd to a roundabout to be built at the Point Nepean Rd intersection, then go straight ahead or turn left to get to the town centre.

 Bandicoot searched in vain on the shire website for information about the new terminal and was similarly thwarted on the Searoad site. (Bandicoot tip: a Google search often turns up items not revealed in searches of the shire site.)

The shire site revealed nothing in searches for “searoad ferry”, queenscliff ferry”, “sorrento ferry” or in “News and Media” – Bandicoot searched 10 pages of News and Media, through events held months ago and still not culled. All to no avail. Who’s in charge of the website? The Ghost of Christmas Past?

As to the Searoad site, it was also a dud. Finally Google turned up www.searoad.com.au/sorrento-terminal/, which Bandicoot then failed to find in an extensive search of the official site. The page invited readers’ comments – “For more information on this exciting project, a fact sheet is available HERE.” But clicking the word “HERE” – clearly intended to be a link – achieved nothing.

Next day the link didn’t work. Is the shire in charge of the Searoad site, too? Sort of. Searoad apologised in response to a query: it is awaiting information from the shire, it explained…