Final $6.8b East West Link design ignores government’s own expert planning advice

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The Age: Final $6.8b East West Link design ignores government’s own expert planning advice. September 30, 2014. Clay Lucas and Richard Willingham

The final design for the East West Link ignores key planning issues identified by the Napthine government’s hand-picked experts, including relocating a ventilation stack away froma primary school, and removing a massive spaghetti junction that will replace parkland.

Premier Denis Napthine on Tuesday unveiled the final design for the 6.6-kilometre toll road between the Eastern Freeway at Hoddle Street and CityLink in Flemington.

He and Roads Minister Terry Mulder revealed previously undisclosed features for the $6.8 billion road. They include:

* Voluntary offers to 88 home owners affected by the project but outside its compulsory acquisition boundaries;

* Four new on and off ramps at a huge junction in Flemington where the toll road meets CityLink, meaning a total of seven entrances and exits;

* A new design for the “sound wave”, a sweeping sculptural overpass in Collingwood connecting Hoddle Street to the Eastern Freeway;

* The location of tunnel ventilation stacks at both ends of the tunnel;

* A large new car park at Melbourne Zoo; and

* An on-ramp at Brunswick Road for city-bound traffic.

In all, Victorian taxpayers will contribute $2 billion to build the first stage of the toll road, with work on the second stage through Melbourne’s inner-west gathering pace.

The Abbott government has already chipped in $1.5 billion and the successful bidder East West Connect will be responsible for the remaining $3.3 billion.

Labor has promised to tear up the contracts for the road, which were signed on Monday and included a separate side deal guaranteeing the East West Connect consortium extra assurance after it threatened to walk away from the deal.

The government warned that taxpayers could be liable for more than $1 billion in compensation payments if the contracts were ripped up by Labor.

A 10-storey tunnel ventilation stack will be built in Collingwood, near homes and the Clifton Hill Primary School, despite the government’s project assessment committee saying it should be located hundreds of metres to the east.

The expert panel also recommended, in its final report to Planning Minister Matthew Guy in May, the complete deletion of a flyover at Hoddle Street nearby, but this was ignored and the new “soundwave” will be built.

And the government’s expert planners recommended the removal of the southbound connections to CityLink and the Tullamarine Freeway over Ross Straw Field in Parkville.

Instead, this recommendation was ignored, with the four new roads added to the spaghetti junction.

The government confirmed that, in all, 201 properties will be compulsorily or voluntarily acquired.

On Tuesday, the process began to inform 88 homeowners they were eligible to be bought out by the state, at a time of their choosing within the next two years. It followed 93 other homeowners and 20 businesses being told previously that their properties would be compulsorily taken.

Mr Mulder said everything would be done to minimise impact on residents, and that between 1 and 2 per cent of Royal Park land would be lost to make way for the new toll road.

Under the deal signed by the government on Monday, it will set and collect the tolls. But the government will not say how much tolls will be, other than they will be comparable to EastLink and CityLink prices.

The government will make quarterly service payments to the consortium, but Treasurer Michael Mr O’Brien also refused to say how much they would be.

Opposition leader Dan Andrews said Victorians were being offered a clear choice and repeated that the contracts were not worth the paper they were written on.

Mr Andrews was repeatedly asked how much Labor believed it would cost Victorians to tear up the contracts. He said all policy costings would be released before the election.

“If there is no contract then there is nothing to rip up,” he said. “It is not a legally binding contract.”

But he conceded there would be some modest compensation, given the unsuccessful bidders to the project had received compensation.

He also attacked a side deal, reported by The Age, for compensation. “It would seem that a smelly, dodgy, extremely arrogant side deal has been done by this government without the authority of the Victorian community,” Mr Andrews said.

Mr O’Brien however said on Tuesday that the guarantees provided to East West Connect were done to reinforce that “the Victorian government will stand by its contracts”.

“All we are saying through the guarantee is that those termination provisions will be absolutely valid, absolutely enforceable,” he said.

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