Drivers will pay most of the $5.5 billion needed for a proposed toll road aimed at easing congestion on Melbourne's West Gate Bridge.
The surprise Transurban proposal will use a tunnel and an elevated freeway along Footscray Rd to join the West Gate Freeway with CityLink. The bid relies on almost $2 billion coming from the federal government, with the rest coming from new tolls and the extension of existing tolls.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the industry-led bid was being examined, but as it stood it wouldn’t need a cent of taxpayer money.
“It has a very, very strong business case,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
But the federal government says it would be “highly unusual” to commit money to a project the state government wasn’t contributing to.
“While we are happy to consider any job creating infrastructure that will drive economic growth in Victoria, this is the first detail we have seen from Transurban or the Victorian government on this project,” Federal assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs said.
The federal government has previously said money would only be spent on road projects of national economic significance. Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton said the Western Distributor met the characteristics the federal government was seeking.
“If this one doesn’t tick the box, it’d be hard to see any other project ticking the box,” he said.
Mr Charlton said the road would take trucks off the West Gate Bridge and suburban roads, while giving motorists an alternative to get from Melbourne’s west to the north. The project, if agreed to, would replace Labor’s $500 million West Gate Distributor truck ramp proposal.
Shadow treasurer Michael O’Brien said Victorians would pay higher tolls for longer because the state government wasn’t putting its own money into the project.
“(Mr Andrews) seems to think this is such a great road everyone else should pay for it, except himself,” he said.
RACV Roads and Traffic manager Dave Jones said the Western Distributor proposal would deliver real improvements to the city’s overall transport network.
“It is much better than the original proposal the state government took to the election,” he said.
Greens spokeswoman Colleen Hartland said trucks should be banned from suburban roads in Melbourne’s west, otherwise they would use them to avoid tolls. Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Mark Stone said a second river crossing was a major step forward in moving freight around Melbourne.
The Western Distributor proposal has now moved to stage three of Victoria’s new Market-led Proposals Interim Guidelines, allowing community consultation.
THE TOLL ORDER:
- $5.5 billion to build, 3500 construction jobs created
- New lanes on the West Gate freeway, new connections to the port
- $1.60 return for every dollar spent
- Construction starts 2015, ends 2020
- Tolls on CityLink extended at least to 2044
- 14km long, adding 60km of new lanes
- 60 per cent increase in river crossing capacity.