To be or not to be: Pressure builds in East-West link spat

Political posturing over the controversial $8 billion East West Tunnel continues to build, with Liberal candidates from Melbourne’s east using the plan to attack federal Labor.

At the same time, federal Labor MPs and the Greens have renewed calls for the government to release the business case and traffic-flow modelling for the road.

News Limited on Monday reported that Liberal candidates in marginal Labor seats in Melbourne’s east had begun a letterbox campaign spruiking the benefits of the Napthine government’s plan to build a tunnel from the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine freeway, and the fact the federal Coalition would contribute $1.5 billion if elected in September.

But at least one local MP, Speaker Anna Burke, says the tunnel has not been raised by constituents as a priority.

Ms Burke, who represents Chisholm, said the tunnel had not been raised in her electorate.

“Most people are supporters of a light rail, as a minimum, down the road [Eastern Freeway],” Ms Burke said.

“People are not going from Box Hill to the west. Most just are going into town. Where is the business case? Surely the business case needs to be about the traffic flow.”

Despite calls from the Victorian government for Commonwealth dollars for the tunnel, federal Labor has indicated it is more interested in funding the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel – a nine-kilometre tunnel between South Kensington and South Yarra, with five stations – first as it is listed as higher priority by the independent Infrastructure Australia.

Last Tuesday State Treasurer Michael O’Brien named three marginal federal Labor seats in the eastern suburbs as set to benefit from the road tunnel, warning that voters in marginal seats of Deakin, La Trobe and Chisholm would react poorly if the Gillard government did not back the Napthine plan.

La Trobe MP Laura Smyth said the East-West Tunnel had “the prospects of being a worthwhile project” but it depended on the state government providing a business case to Infrastructure Australia to make an assessment.

Deakin MP Mike Symon says he has been advocating for better cross-town connection for residents in the outer east for some time. While he is supportive of the idea of the East-West Link, he too would like to see more details, including a business case.

Victorian Greens Leader Greg Barber on Monday accused the state government of shrouding the East West tunnel in secrecy after large chunks of information about traffic modelling were blacked out in Freedom of Information documents.

Mr Barber released 600 pages of emails between the Linking Melbourne Authority, which is responsible for the East-West road tunnel, and their modelling firm Veitch Lister.

He said the project was a “financial lemon” and the documents showed that there had been modelling of different off-ramp locations, induced traffic and how much revenue would be collected through tolls. Mr Barber said “almost anything useful” had been blacked out, including the names of email attachments.

“They will never let you see because it shows that their toll road is a dud and rail projects can do the same job cheaper and better,” he said.

The state government has repeatedly refused to release the business case, saying it does not want to give advantage to the private sector. It says the plan would reduce congestion on Hoddle Street…

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