State bypasses roads body on east-west link

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Yarra Mayor Cr Jackie Fristacky at Trains Not Tolls snap protest, 11 June 2013

Yarra Mayor Cr Jackie Fristacky at Trains Not Tolls snap protest, 11 June 2013

The Age:  State bypasses roads body on east-west link (17 June 2013)

The business case for the east-west link toll road has not been submitted to Infrastructure Australia for scrutiny and has no prospect of getting the advisory authority’s recommendation for federal funding this year.

The Napthine government’s decision not to hand over requested information about the road project before a crucial June deadline has been interpreted as a snub of the authority, which was set up to take the politics out of funding major infrastructure projects.

Roads Minister Terry Mulder said in April that Infrastructure Australia had asked to see the east-west link business case before it completed its annual update of which major projects most deserve federal funding.

”They indicated they’d like it by June, we’re doing some further work on that,” Mr Mulder said.

However, Infrastructure Australia chief executive Michael Deegan said on Friday the authority had not seen the business case.

With insufficient time left to assess the project’s economic merits, the east-west link will remain a project of ”real potential” on the authority’s priority list – the third of four categories and well short of a green light for funding.

In its May budget the state government committed $294 million to the project and called on the federal government to help fund it.

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has already committed $1.5 billion to the project if elected, a pledge unmatched by Labor.

Chris Hale, lecturer in transport engineering at Melbourne University, said the Napthine government had calculated that it could kick-start the project without Infrastructure Australia approval.

”They’re not interested in having that project ranked against other projects, they’re not interested in having a fair comparison of benefit-cost ratios and … they’re not interested in waiting until the documentation and the assessment is at a sufficient stage before they proceed,” Dr Hale said.

He said there was a lack of transparency on how major projects were approved and planned.

”In 1973, maybe you had a chat and a cup of coffee with someone and bango, there’s your $1.5 billion,” Dr Hale said.

”Well, in the 21st century you’ve got to be much more rigorous than that. It doesn’t matter who you had a chat with, even if it’s [Infrastructure Australia chairman Sir Rod] Eddington himself, there needs to be an exchange of documentation.”

The east-west link sits behind other planned transport projects including the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel, which has been assessed by Infrastructure Australia as economically beneficial and ready to proceed.

The link would be an 18-kilometre road between the Eastern Freeway in Collingwood and the Western Ring Road in Sunshine West. The state government plans to build the eastern section first, at a cost of up to $8 billion.

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