Victorian state election 2014: Industry gets behind East West Link

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Herald Sun: Victorian state election 2014: Industry gets behind East West Link. Paul Gilder. 26 November 2014

Industry groups say the East West Link project is needed to reinvigorate the economy.

Victoria’s transport and industry leaders have urged the winner of Saturday’s state election to commit to the controversial $6.8 billion East West Link project.The resultant easing of traffic congestion and job creation in the construction phase will provide a crucial confidence boost to businesses — many of which say they are still weighing up whether to invest in new workers or expansion plans.

It comes as government sources ­reveal the state would have to pay $1.1 billion in compensation to the project’s builders if it backed out.

With construction slated to begin this year, the Napthine Government is billing East West as an essential alternative to using the Monash, CityLink and West Gate freeways to traverse Melbourne.

Labor leader Daniel Andrews has vowed to ditch the project should he become premier, making it a political football heading into Saturday’s poll.

Brian Kruger, chief of Australia’s biggest freight mover, Melbourne-based Toll Holdings, said traffic congestion was a major hurdle to the efficient daily delivery of packages.

“Toll absolutely supports the East West Link project. Certainty around infrastructure investment assists growth by enabling businesses like Toll to take a long-term view with investment decisions, thereby helping to reinvigorate the economy,” Mr Kruger said.

CityLink toll road operator Transurban is also supportive.

“The long-term development of the transport network is essential to the sustainability of Melbourne and the East West Link is an important component of the city’s transport network,” Transurban chief Scott Charlton said.

Committee for Melbourne chief Kate Roffey said if the project failed to proceed, it would be detrimental to Victoria’s reputation and economy.

“Linking up the east and west of Melbourne has been on the agenda for 45 years, and we will get it done at some point. For it to become a political issue now, with contracts signed, is not a position we want to be in as a state,” Ms Roffey said.

She said Victoria was not blessed with abundant natural resources, so construction had to be a key driver of growth.

Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Mark Stone also urged bipartisan support, ­saying either major party would have room within the Budget to embark on significant builds without debt or ­hiking up taxes.

Mr Andrews has vowed to rip up the 25-year contract with winning tenders Lend Lease, French construction giant Bouygues and Spanish tunnel builder Acciona, saying Labor had been advised the contract was “not worth the paper it’s written on”.

The Link is expected to generate 3700 jobs during its construction, with the East West Connect consortium already hiring 250 staff and advertising for another 158 roles.

Small businesses have backed the construction of the EastWest Link, saying it will kickstart their companies.

Prestige Sunroofs and Offroad owner Paul Dibb said the Link could create new business for his specialist accessories outlet.

Mr Dibb said the Burwood-based business had a tray truck, used to deliver vehicles, that was regularly delayed by traffic jams. He welcomed any roads projects that cut travel times and increased efficiency.

“We don’t get a lot of business from that whole north of Melbourne because it just takes too long to get here,” Mr Dibb said.

He said he was also concerned that taxpayers could foot penalties of more than $1 billion if the Link contract was torn up.

Aussie Catering Company catering manager Scott Watson said investment in infrastructure was vital.

“We are on the road all day. We use all the arterial road links because they make it faster to get around, but they need to be improved,” he said.

Mr Watson said the Braeside company ran a fleet of vehicles and anything that reduced the bottom line and improved efficiency was desirable.

Aussie Home Loans Greensborough franchise manager Lachlan Pitman said he drove around the area of the proposed Link at least three times a week.

“I do 60,000km a year, I am on the road all the time and I get to that area and the traffic stalls,” he said.

With clients scattered around Melbourne, Mr Pitman said it would benefit small business owners.

“It is irrelevant what both parties say, whether it will save $1 billion or $2 million,” he said. “The bottom line is that it has to be done.”

paul.gilder@news.com.au

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