Construction begins on $6.8 billion West Gate Tunnel
Construction has begun on the $6.7 billion West Gate Tunnel, despite key planning approvals and legislation not having passed Parliament.
Workers started clearing the site and excavating on Whitehall Street in Footscray on Wednesday, at what will be the northern portal of the controversial toll road which will link the West Gate Freeway in Yarraville and CityLink in Docklands.
Speaking at the site Premier Daniel Andrews declared that the project would go ahead even if it does not receive planning approvals in Parliament.
“Blockers, people who have no plan, they are irrelevant to the work that needs to be done in this state,” Mr Andrews said.
“We are not wasting any time, we said we would start almost immediately, that’s exactly what has happened.”
Workers will dig down more than seven storeys to make way for the project’s two massive, $50 million tunnel-boring machines.
From 2019, the 90-metre machines will tunnel 24 hours a day through the week towards the West Gate Freeway, moving nine metres per day. A concrete lining will be created behind the machines as they bore through the earth.
About 350 homeowners whose properties may be damaged by the boring will be compensated.
The Coalition has indicated that it will block the planning scheme amendment in the Upper House, where the government does not have a balance of power.
Amendments to the state’s planning scheme need to be passed in Parliament’s Upper House in order for major projects to be built.
However under the Planning and Environment Act, the government has the power to exempt the West Gate Tunnel project from the planning scheme.
This would allow it to go ahead without parliamentary planning approval.
It is understood that if the West Gate Tunnel does not receive approval, it will not have to adhere to planning requirements or the project’s environmental effects statement.
The Greens, who oppose the toll road, are still undecided about whether they will support the changes.
The party’s transport spokesman, Sam Hibbins, said they were still considering their options and “determining how best we can stop this bad project”.
“The government is showing contempt for democracy by pushing through the project without planning approval, without knowing how to pay for it, without legislation. The West Gate Tunnel is a bad idea that will create more traffic and more profits for Transurban.”
As part of the government’s deal with Transurban, which is tipping in $4 billion to build the project, the government has agreed to extend the CityLink Concession Deed for 10 years to 2045, at an annual increase of 4.25 per cent for a decade.
Both the Coalition and the Greens have said they will block the Concession Deed, which the Premier has said would result in taxpayers paying for the project.
“In the event that there is not sufficient numbers in the Parliament, then instead of users of the road paying for it, every taxpayer will. It’s simple as that. The time for talking about this is over. It needs to get built.”
The Premier has also said there was no need to pass the CityLink Concession Deed until after the road is built in 2022.
The state government will also be liable to pay Transurban completion and substitution payments, but this figure has not been disclosed.
Another work site will be established on Somerville Road later this year, connecting to the Whitehall Street site with an elevated heavy duty covered conveyor belt.
At its peak, the two sites will be home to more than 500 workers.
It is designed to take 9000 trucks off local roads and reduce congestion on the West Gate Bridge, which the Western Distributor Authority predicts will be in almost total gridlock at peak times by 2031 if nothing is done.
Source: The Age, Victorian State Goverment