Melbourne East West Link: Federal Opposition question ‘shonky’ funding arrangement

ABC Victoria: Melbourne East West Link: Federal Opposition question ‘shonky’ funding arrangement. State politics report Alison Savage

PHOTO: The East West Link is an 18km project that would connect the Eastern Freeway to the Western Ring Road. (ABC News)

The second stage of Melbourne’s East West Link will receive $1 billion in federal funding this year, despite the lack of a business case to justify the project, a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra has heard.

Victorian Senator Stephen Conroy has described the funding arrangement for the project, to be built in two stages and estimated to cost up to $8 billion, as “shonky”.

The Commonwealth has committed $3 billion to the project, including $1 billion towards the second stage this financial year.

However, the business case for stage two, the road’s western section, has not been submitted to Infrastructure Australia, the independent body that advises the Government on major projects.

During Senate Estimates, Senator Conroy questioned why the money for the western section had already been allocated.

“What was the need to give [the Victorian Government] a billion dollars today, for a project that seems to not have a lot going on the next four years?” he said.

Secretary of Department Infrastructure Mike Mrdak said that the Federal Government hoped to see the project accelerated.

“The Government has made it clear in the budget documentation the funding will be contingent on the business plan and the advice from Infrastructure Australia,” he said.

However, Senator Conroy pointed out that the money was due to be allocated in just six weeks.

“This about as shonky as it gets, giving them a billion dollars. When is the first remote chance that they could put a shovel in the ground on stage two?”

“It’s years away from shovel ready,” Senator Conroy said.

Construction on the eastern section is due to start later this year and the western section in 2015.

Stage two planning underway: Denis Napthine

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has defended planning for the western section of the road.

The East West Link debate

The background on the Victorian Government’s planned multi-billion dollar East West Link project.
“A preliminary business case has been developed and we’ll expect a full business case to be developed for Infrastructure Australia in the future,” he said.

He would not say whether that would be before the Victorian election.

“We’ll do it as soon as we can,” he said.

The Senate committee also heard the benefit-cost ratio for the East West Link project was assessed as being lower than for the proposed upgrade of the Western Ring Road (M80).

The Federal Government abandoned plans to help fund the upgrade of the Western Ring Road, in favour of East West Link.

The hearing also confirmed a quarter of a billion dollars already allocated to the Western Ring Road upgrade had been diverted.

‘Vital’ project for Melbourne’s western suburbs

Dr Napthine spent the afternoon in Melbourne’s West spruiking the benefits of the western portion of the East West Link project to local councillors and mayors.

He says the East West Link will have huge benefits for people in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, and beyond.

“It will deliver the vital second river crossing, taking pressure of the Westgate Bridge,” he said.

“It will absolutely improve travel times for the people of Wyndham, Caroline Springs, Melton, Ballarat and Geelong, trying to get into Melbourne.

“It will also take those trucks out of Yarraville, Seddon and Footscray.”

The Victorian Government has not released the final alignment of the western section of the road, or revealed how many properties may need to be compulsorily acquired.

Dr Napthine says he hopes to release the final designs for the road as soon as possible.

“We’ll be looking to work as fast as we can go to give a reference design for the western section, to give the people in the western suburbs an idea of how they will benefit from the western section of East West Link,” he said.

Dr Napthine was also asked about the cost of tolls on the road and said they would be “price competitive”.

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