Denis Napthine and Tony Abbott announce $1.5 billion for stage two of East West Link

The Age: Denis Napthine and Tony Abbott announce $1.5 billion for stage two of East West Link. April 29, 2014. Josh Gordon. State political editor for The Age.

$1.5b to free Victorians from traffic ‘tyranny’

Tony Abbott pledges $1.5 billion to fund the East-West link project, saying he wants to leave a legacy as “the infrastructure Prime minister”.

Denis Napthine has dramatically ramped up Victoria’s infrastructure agenda ahead of the November 29 state election, confirming plans to build both stages of the East West Link simultaneously in an 18-kilometre road project to cost up to $18 billion.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pledged a further $1.5 billion for a second section of the project – subject to a robust business case – connecting the Tullamarine Freeway to the Western Ring Road.

The budget spending promise – which as reported by Fairfax Media redirects $500 million in funding set aside to upgrade the M80 – mirrors the $1.5 billion announced by the Commonwealth for the first section of the road, joining the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway.

Dr Napthine said it would eventually save motorists 15 minutes to 20 minutes travel time when driving to the city from Geelong, Werribee, Altona and Laverton.

The announcement places the Labor opposition in a difficult situation. State Labor remains opposed to both sections of the project and is instead backing a plan to eliminate 50 level crossings and remove trucks from the West Gate Bridge. But it is also critically dependant on voters in Melbourne’s fast-growing west.

A day after private sector bids closed for the first stage, Dr Napthine confirmed both sections of the road would be completed by 2023, costing $8 billion to $10 billion, in addition to the $6 billion to $8 billion being spent on the first stage.

“The bids were sealed and entered yesterday and we are well on the way of processing those bids, and we’ll be making an announcement about that in future,” Dr Napthine said. “So we’ll start work on stage one later this year and we’ll start work on stage two later next year, so they will be built simultaneously.”

The announcement adds to a growing infrastructure agenda for the state government, which now includes a rail link to the airport, level crossing upgrades, the regional rail project, upgrades to the Cranbourne-Pakenham rail corridor, the redevelopment of the Port of Hastings and the Metro Rail project.

Treasurer Michael O’Brien – who will hand down his second budget as Treasurer in a week – has previously warned that Victoria cannot handle building multiple large infrastructure projects simultaneously, claiming too much “overlap” could force up costs by creating labour shortages.

But Dr Napthine shrugged off such concerns, saying the construction sector would cope.

”Isn’t it fantastic that we are standing here today … to say that we have a very crowded and aggressive infrastructure agenda,” he said. “I’ve got no doubt that the building and construction industry will respond to that challenge and deliver the quality building and construction that we need to deliver this infrastructure in the time frame that we have set.”

The route and design of the western section of the new toll road remains unclear, but it is likely to be built using a combination of viaducts, bridges and tunnel and surface freeway, and will involve the compulsory acquisition of land.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews seized on federal plans to introduce a deficit levy, saying the Prime Minister was raising taxes to pay for Dr Napthine’s “dud tunnel”.

He said the western section was “a fantasy” that had no business case, or plan, describing Tuesday’s announcement as simply a dotted line on a map.

Mr Andrews also said that Labor had already released its transport policy, including the $500 million western distributor to take at least 5000 trucks off the West Gate Freeway every day.

The Abbott government requires all infrastructure projects with Commonwealth funding to be backed by a rigorous business case and benefit-cost analysis. He said he was sure the business case would show the second phase of the road would stack up when it was completed.

– With Richard Willingham

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