A partnership involving construction giant Lend Lease and French builder Bouygues is in the box seat for the $2.65 billion contract to design and build one of Sydney’s biggest road infrastructure projects after being named the preferred contractor for the development.

In its latest announcement, project owner Transurban said it had awarded preferred contractor status to the Lend Lease Bouygues partnership for the design and construction of NorthConnex – a $3 billion project in Sydney’s northern suburbs linking the M1 Pacific Motorway at Wahroonga to the Hills M2 Motorway at its existing Pennant Hills Road interchange at West Pennant Hills via two side-by-side nine kilometer tunnels.

Announcing the award, Transurban Chief Executive Officer Scott Charlton the decision followed a robust selection process which drew interest from a number of strong contenders.

“We have gone through a unique and innovative competitive tender process to select Lend Lease Bouygues as the design and construction contractor” Bouygues said.

Set to provide a continuous motorway between the Hunter and Central Coast and Western and South Western Sydney, the new tunnels will allow motorists to bypass 21 sets of traffic lights and are expected to remove up to 5,000 trucks from Pennant Hills Road each day as well as cut travel time on that road by between ten and fifteen minutes during peak hour.

The preferred design will see the tunnels built to a clearance height of 5.3 meters (as opposed to 4.6 meters for most tunnels in Sydney) to minimise the chances of overhead impacts and will allow for extra connections to the M2 as and when required.

Charlton said the design incorporates lessons from other tunnel projects to maximise functionality and sustainability.

“On site there will be a high level of construction waste recycling, the builders will maximise collection and reuse of non-potable water while in the tunnel [and] they will establish and run low energy lighting and energy efficient tunnel ventilation systems” Charlton said, adding that careful design of the alignment would allow for consistent vehicle speed.

An environmental impact statement will now be on public display until the middle of the year.

Subject to approvals, construction is expected to start next year and finish up in 2019.

Transurban along with the Westlink M7 shareholders submitted an unsolicited proposal to design, build, operate and finance the project to the New South Wales government in 2012.

All up, the project is expected to cost around $3 billion – comprising of $2.65 billion for construction and associated costs for land acquisition.