The Victorian Budget, which was presented to the Parliament on 23 May, recognised that the North East Link Project may be subject to the Commonwealth Infrastructure Investment Program review.
It certainly deserves to be. The project, which if it were to be completed, would dump thousands more cars onto Melbourne’s road network. And at a cost initially announced by Premier Andrews to be $10 billion. The latest admitted cost of the project is $18 billion. If it is ever completed, it is anybody’s guess what the final cost to taxpayers may be.
In contrast, new spending on public transport services announced in the budget is risible. The cost of new bus services, confined to the outer south east and north of Melbourne, amounts to about $2 million in 2023/24.
The Victorian government claims that the North East Link Project would “complete Melbourne’s orbital freeway network.”
What a sick joke. Who could be conned into believing that the North East Link, which converges on the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen/ Balwyn North could be portrayed as an element of an “orbital” freeway?
It would, instead, shovel more traffic onto the Eastern Freeway and into central Melbourne via twelve through lanes between Springvale Road and Hoddle Street as a key element of the North East Link Project. It would also dump more traffic onto already congested arterial roads in the eastern and north eastern suburbs.
Does anyone detect a zombie East West Link project here – which the Andrews government paid about $1 billion to walk away from after the 2014 election? The planning approvals for the project from the Napthine years are still in place and the Andrews government has done nothing since to enhance public transport in the Eastern Freeway corridor. The reservation available for a rail service to Doncaster would be abandoned for extra traffic lanes as part of the North East Link Project.
The federal government has offered $1.75 billion in funding support for the North East Link Project. The Albanese government has since commenced a review of its infrastructure commitments to the states, including the North East Link Project. In announcing the review, the federal minister, Catherine King, said “Communities will benefit from national significant infrastructure with shorter and safer travel (and) more livable cities, suburbs and regions…”
On these grounds, and if the Albanese review is a serious effort, the North East Link Project should lose all federal funding, and the Victorian government should redeploy capital to public and active transport as well as initiatives to take heavy freight off Melbourne’s roads and on to rail.