The final route of the $5.5 billion Western Distributor could be up in the air for months after the Victorian government revealed two options for a new tunnel under Yarraville.
Premier Daniel Andrews said last Thursday the government will spend almost $1.5 billion to connect the West Gate Freeway to Citylink and the CBD via a new tunnel under Yarraville and a bridge over the Maribyrnong River, despite earlier claims state funding would not be needed.
The unsolicited proposal by toll-road operator Transurban, which would toll cars about $3 and trucks about $13, dwarfs the $680 million West Gate Distributor project Labor took to the 2014 election.
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Transurban initially suggested it would pay one-third of construction costs, one-third would come from a 10 to 12-year extension to Citylink tolling, and the remaining third could come from the federal government, with no cash needed from Victoria.
But Mr Andrews said the government “is providing certainty to the community” by allocating the $1.46 billion earmarked 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 Premier said.
Construction could begin as early as the end of next year and be completed by 2022, but no decision has been made on whether the West Gate Freeway will connect with the Western Distributor tunnel via portals within the freeway reserve, or via ramps leading to portals closer to Yarraville village.
RACV public policy manager Brian Negus said the western distributor is integral to relieving Melbourne’s crippling traffic congestion.
But he also cited concerns about disruptions 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,” Mr Negus said.
Roads minister Luke Donnellan said the state government will continue to consult with residents, industry and councils on the final design.
No business case
But shadow roads and infrastructure minister Ryan Smith said the government is putting Transurban’s interests before those of motorists.
“Victorians still haven’t seen a real business case for the Western Distributor,” Mr Smith said.
“All Daniel Andrews has released is a document with all the detail redacted.”
Western suburbs Greens MP Colleen Hartland said the funding announcement made the project seem like “a done deal”.
“This makes me nervous as to how meaningful consultation will really be,” Ms Hartland said.
“Will the community have a say on the design options?”