The Victorian government will spend $1.46 billion on the $5.5 billion Western Distributor freeway despite initial claims it would not be required to spend any money on the project.
Premier Daniel Andrews has announced May’s state budget will set aside the $1.46 billion over four years to complete the toll road project, which will connect the West Gate freeway to Citylink via a new tunnel under Yarraville and bridge over the Maribyrnong River.
Toll-road operator Transurban had originally suggested it would pay one-third of the construction cost, one-third would come from a 10 to 15 year extension on the existing CityLink tolling period and the remaining third would come from the Federal government, with no contribution from the Victorian government.
“On the one hand he is rejecting money from the Federal Government for roads and on the other hand forcing Victorian motorists to pay for his T-intersection”
But Mr Andrews on Thursday said the government “is providing certainty to the community” by allocating the $1.46 billion that was previously to come from Federal coffers.
“Although we will continue to advocate for the Turnbull Government to partner with us on this project, we simply cannot wait to get on with delivering it, and we’re getting it done with or without their support.”
The unsolicited proposal by Transurban, which would toll cars about $3 and trucks about $13, dwarfs the $680 million Westgate Distributor project Labor took to the 2014 election.
The state government has also announced the establishment of the Western Distributor Authority and revealed it has signed an agreement with Transurban on processes for the tender, planning and engagement stages.
The first full designs have also been revealed, including two options for connecting the West Gate Freeway to the Western Distributor Tunnel – either directly within the road reserve, or via ramps to a portal in adjacent land.
The revised longer tunnel option differs from the initial 2015 proposal by splitting the tunnel portals, placing one near Williamstown Road and the other further west, enabling a connection to Hyde Street.
Star Weekly this week reported Maribyrnong Council and Yarraville residents are likely to favour the longer tunnel option that reduced impact on parkland and residents, while Hobsons Bay Council and Spotswood residents will prefer the shorter tunnel, which would also be cheaper and less disruptive to traffic during construction.
A further five options outline how fuel tankers and other dangerous goods trucks banned from the tunnel could access Hyde Street.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said the Western Distributor will take thousands of trucks off local streets and create 5600 Victorian jobs.
Roads minister Luke Donnellan said the state government will continue to consult with residents, industry and local councils to get the right design right.
But shadow roads and infrastructure minister Ryan Smith said Daniel Andrews’ deal puts the interests of Transurban before motorists.
“On the one hand he is rejecting money from the Federal Government for roads and on the other hand forcing Victorian motorists to pay for his T-intersection,” he said.
“Victorians still haven’t seen a real business case for the Western Distributor – all Daniel Andrews has released is a document with all the detail redacted.”
Mr Smith said Victorians will be bitter the government has thrown away $1.1 billion to not build the East West Link but is going into debt and extending tolls to pay for “a second rate alternative”.
Western suburbs Greens MP Colleen Hartland said the decision makes the project seem like “a done deal”.
“We don’t know the details around the road design, the environmental effects assessment is yet to be done and the contract isn’t signed, but it already feels like a done deal with it already fully budgeted for,” she said.
“I imagine the different tunnel options, that are supposedly undecided, would vary the cost quite significantly, yet the government has already set a clear budget going forward.
“This makes me nervous as to how meaningful consultation will really be. Will the community really have a say on the design options?”
RACV general manager of public policy Brian Negus said the Western Distributor is an integral part of the solution to Melbourne’s crippling traffic congestion, but noted concerns regarding disruption during construction.
“It is critical that the state government and Transurban ensure that the project is staged to minimise traffic disruption on the West Gate,” he said.
Maribyrnong Council chief executive Stephen Wall told a recent parliamentary inquiry into infrastructure projects that a total ban on trucks must be introduced on inner-west residential streets once the Western Distributor is completed, or trucks would continue to rat-run through the area.
The updated designs will be available at the state government’s community consultation on the Western Distributor, which begin at the South Kingsville Community Centre from 9.30am-1.30pm on Saturday.