The state government has headed off a clash with councils and residents by announcing a three-kilometre twin tunnel to be built beneath Yarraville will connect directly with the West Gate Freeway.
A long-awaited reference design for the $5.5 billion Western Distributor project, released on Sunday, confirms the government will build the long tunnel option from near Williamstown Road rather than the short tunnel option residents feared would destroy open space near Stony Creek and come to close to homes.
Tollway operator Transurban and both Maribyrnong and Hobsons Bay Council had indicated support for the long tunnel, but a state government business case indicated it will cause greater delays and a longer construction time due to the difficulty of creating a tunnel entrance in the middle of the West Gate Freeway.
The longer tunnel option is the option Transurban originally took to the government is its unsolicited proposal, before redrawing the plans to move the tunnel entrance closer to Yarraville homes and the Yarraville Community Centre, connected via flyover ramps.
Community groups Concerned Locals of Yarraville and Friends of Stony Creek have argued the impact the show tunnel would have on residents and green space is unacceptable.
The Spotswood/South Kingsville Western Distributor Residents Group was also opposed to several design options under consideration, particularly any that would include flyovers up of to four storeys crossing the freeway.
Concerned Locals of Yarraville spokesman Scott Ellerton said the selection of the long tunnel option is a huge win for the community.
“We congratulate all residents and community groups who campaigned for the long tunnel, and the government for listening to community feedback in selecting this option,” he said.
“We will continue to be involved in the project to ensure that our community achieves the best possible outcome from this project. Areas we will continue to have input on include ramp alignment, ventilation stack standards and locations, noise barriers and truck curfews.”
The tollway, connecting the West Gate Freeway with the port and CBD via a tunnel then a bridge over the Maribyrnong River, is proposed as a way of cutting traffic on the overloaded West Gate Bridge.
The government expects it to take 6000 trucks off the bridge each day and remove a similar number from inner-west residential streets.
New on-and-off ramps will connect the West Gate Freeway with Hyde Street in Yarraville, for use by fuel tankers and other trucks carrying dangerous goods.
The state government says the design’s ramps are immediately to the north and south, level to or lower than, and as close as possible to each side of the existing West Gate Freeway, with no flyovers.
The Maribyrnong Truck Action Group and the Greens say the tollway will need to be backed by a complete truck ban on inner-west residential roads to avoid trucks rat-running through the area to avoid tolls, as well as adequate filtration on ventilation stacks to protect the neighbouring communities from diesel exhaust.
Hobsons Bay mayor Peter Hemphill said the council is pleased the design includes the long tunnel option, but a ramp to the south of the freeway will impact local Spotswood industry, residents, recreation areas and the local kindergarten.
“Truck traffic is also of deep concern with this project effectively transferring the truck problem in Francis Street on to the streets of Hobsons Bay.”
Spotswood South Kingsville Western Distributor Residents Group (SSKRG) spokeswoman Grace Guinto said by moving trucks closer to Emma McLean Kindergarten, Donald McLean Reserve and Spotswood residents, the government has just pushed the problem to the south side of the freeway.
“Considering a key objective of this project is to reduce the impacts of diesel particulate matter on children in the inner west, it seems a questionable decision to propose a reference design that brings a truck ramp south of the West Gate Freeway running significantly closer to a kindergarten, community sporting fields and heavily populated residential areas.”
The state government says the ramps will be close as possible to each side of and level to or lower than the existing West Gate Freeway.
The reference design and the Request For Tender have now been provided to three shortlisted construction consortiums.
Impact assessments for the Environment Effects Statement (EES) will now get underway, with community information sessions planned in coming months.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced in April the government will spend almost $1.5 billion on the tollway, despite earlier claims state funding would not be needed.
The unsolicited proposal by toll-road operator Transurban, which will toll cars about $3 and trucks about $13, dwarfs the $680 million West Gate Distributor project Labor took to the 2014 election.
“The Western Distributor will create 5600 jobs, fully funded as part of our historic investment in transport infrastructure. The time for talk is over – we are getting these projects done.”
A Preliminary Social Impact Assessment attached to the project’s business case noted adverse impacts associated with the project are likely to arise due to the scale, long construction phase and challenges of working in a densely populated urban environment.
The government suggests the new tollway could cut up to 20 minutes from trips from outer western suburbs to the city.
Roads minister Luke Donnellan said the community’s views are reflected in the reference design of the project.
“We will continue to talk with the local community throughout the next phase of the design process and the Environmental Effects Statement to ensure the project reflects their needs.”
Contracts will will be awarded in late 2017 with construction to start soon after and be completed by 2022.