A Mega $30 billion road and tunnel network, including a redesigned East West Link beneath Melbourne, would be built by a Victorian Coalition government.
Staking his November election hopes on the “super highway” plan, Opposition Leader Matthew Guy will today promise to start construction on the East West Link and a North East Link by early 2021.
The Coalition will also pledge to finish Labor’s West Gate Tunnel, creating a triple bypass of toll roads that would allow motorists to drive from the northeastern suburbs to Geelong without hitting a single traffic light.
Mr Guy told the Herald Sun the city’s growth was outpacing its infrastructure, and a Coalition government would create “the biggest connected super-highway in Australia and get Victoria moving again”.
“We can’t keep playing this game of infrastructure catch-up. We have to start getting ahead,” Mr Guy said.
“Melburnians have never before felt under so much pressure. We are spending more time at work, more time stuck in traffic, and less time with family and friends.”
Premier Daniel Andrews killed off the East West Link at the last election, wasting $1.3 billion. But Mr Guy said a Melbourne growing by 120,000 people a year needed it.
Of two routes he would ask the Office of Projects Victoria to consider, the first would connect the Eastern Freeway and CityLink around Parkville and the second would create Victoria’s longest underground road from the Eastern Freeway to the West Gate Tunnel in West Melbourne.
But Premier Andrews maintained the East West Link was “a dud project that doesn’t stack up”.
He said two of the key roads in the state opposition’s package — the North East Link and the West Gate Tunnel — were already underway because of his government.
“They have opposed, they have criticised the very projects they’re now great fans of,” Mr Andrews told the ABC.
He said he would be fine with the November state election being a referendum on infrastructure.
Asked about the East West Link, Mr Andrews said his government had different priorities, including removing level crossings and upgrading suburban and regional roads.
He blamed the former Napthine Government for inserting a “poison pill, a booby trap” that cost the state $1.3 billion when Labor cancelled the contracts.
“They can be accountable for that,” Mr Andrews said.
Today’s announcement confirms traffic congestion will be a key battleground for votes at the state election, now just 150 days away.
Mr Guy said that while backing the government’s preferred North East Link route, connecting the M80 Ring Road in Greensborough with the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen, he would review its design to minimise property acquisitions.
Both new toll roads would open by 2027.
Labor has promised to put the North East Link out to market within 100 days of re-election. But the Coalition says it will start build both projects in “tandem” to avoid creating a “giant car park” near the end of Hoddle Street.
Mr Guy pledges to start the East West Link in the 2020-21 financial year, and the North East Link by the end of 2020.
“Daniel Andrews wants to build his North East Link without fixing the Eastern Freeway, and that’s a plan for 24-hour gridlock,” he said.
“A Liberal Nationals Government will build an East West Link so we can fix the end of the Eastern Freeway before completing the construction of a North East Link, which will put an extra 100,000 cars on to the Eastern Freeway.”
Mr Guy also ruled out putting new tolls on existing freeways to pay for the infrastructure blitz.
While the Opposition is likely to release more details on funding closer to the election, Mr Guy said that a government he led would put $2 billion towards the road in its first budget. The federal government has in its Budget a promise of $3 billion for the East West Link and $1.75 billion for the North East Link, giving the Coalition almost $7 billion in total.
Releasing a comprehensive roads plan today, Mr Guy will also reinforce his promise of $4.1 billion to $5.3 billion for grade separations to remove 55 traffic light intersections in Melbourne and Geelong.
In total, the roads package is set to create 19,000 jobs — about 10,300 in building the North East Link, up to 4500 in building the East West Link, and another 5000 in removing intersections.
Depending on the chosen route, the East West Link may cost $7 billion to $10 billion; construction of the North East Link has been costed by Labor at $16.5 billion.
The West Gate Tunnel, due to open in 2022, costs $6.7 billion, but this is already factored into the state Budget.
Some money for the East West Link might be saved from work already done on its development by the former Napthine government.
If elected, the Coalition is promising to overhaul the North East Link Authority within its first 100 days of government, to deliver the East West Link as part of the “super highway”.
It would also change the procurement strategy for the North East Link so that both toll roads can be built at the same time.
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam has hit out at the major parties for focusing on building more toll roads instead of improving the state’s public transport system.
“Building huge toll roads creates more incentives for people to drive which will have the opposite effect if the desire is to get more cars off our roads and protect Melbourne’s liveability,” she said.
“Cities that accommodate large populations well have one thing in common, an efficient and reliable public transport system.”
GUY’S EAST WEST LINK REVAMP PLEDGE
VICTORIA’S longest road tunnel could be built between the Eastern Freeway and West Melbourne in a re-imagined East West Link which the state Opposition will take to the state election.
The route is one of two options that would be put to experts to consider in the event a Matthew Guy-led Coalition were to win November’s poll.
The other would take a similar route to that dumped by Premier Daniel Andrews in 2014 — between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink at Parkville — but with likely modifications to tunnel entrances and lengths.
The Herald Sun can reveal the first “southern corridor” option would see motorists travel beneath the inner northern suburbs on the state’s longest underground road, probably joining the above-ground section of the West Gate Tunnel in West Melbourne and linking to the toll road currently being built by Transurban and other roads. This route would likely create a tunnel more than 5km long.
That tunnel’s entrance point may also start further east of Hoddle St than under the former Napthine government’s plan, but the Coalition would ask the Office of Projects Victoria to advise on the most appropriate site.
The Opposition is also vowing a string of changes to the design of the North East Link, which would be finished a year later than the East West Link in 2027, so that the Eastern Freeway does not become “a giant car park”.
Mr Guy is promising an “immediate review”, focusing on the location of the tunnel portal and the number of properties to be acquired, which he is vowing to reduce.
He said the planned “spaghetti junction” of tunnels near Bulleen Rd would be changed because it is “threatening local homes”.
Bureaucrats heading the project have argued the tunnel maze was more expensive but would reduce the impact on properties in the area.
Mr Guy is also promising to change the plans for an expanded 15-lane Eastern Freeway beyond Bulleen Rd, though final decisions will not be made until after the review.
The Opposition’s roads policy, “Get Victoria Moving”, also includes the removal of 55 intersections in Melbourne and Geelong via grade separations. Of these, 35 have been chosen; the rest will be identified in public consultations.
The latest Census data, out last month, shows three in four Melbourne commuters travel by car, amounting to about 1.5 million people a day.
The city will soon be home to five million people.
Peak travel times are getting longer, and congestion is now costing more than $5.5 billion a year.
Mr Guy said: “Melbourne cannot continue growing at this pace until our roads, transport and services infrastructure catches up.”
The Opposition Leader has maintained his willingness to build the East West Link since Mr Andrews tore up the contracts for the road in the wake of his 2014 state election victory, having argued it did not stack up financially.
Mr Andrews had maintained before the election that compensation would not be paid for walking away from the project because the contracts were “not worth the paper they’re written on”.
Infrastructure Victoria, the government’s independent road and rail advisers, later called on him to complete planning for a link between the Eastern Freeway and CityLink in the next five years. It said the link would be needed within 15 to 30 years.
Infrastructure Australia has identified the link as one of its high-priority initiatives which need to be dealt within the next five years.
The RACV and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have also argued for the East West Link.