The East-West Link, if given the go ahead will be one of the largest infrastructure projects to be ever constructed in Melbourne. Over the years a lot of work has been completed to understand the benefits of the project and needs of Melbournians. This has taken the form of feasibility studies, early planning investigations and business case development. 
The East-West Link was conceived following a study by Rod Eddington in 2008 into Melbourne’s future east-west travel needs. The report provided a number of recommendations, including new rail tunnels, public transport improvement plans and the East West link as a duplication of the West Gate bridge. According to the study, as the demand for travel increases, fast and reliable connections around the city will become more and more important for businesses and the future prosperity of Melbourne.
According to studies undertaken by the Linking Melbourne Authority (LMA), the demand for the East-West Link is driven by the need to enhance connectivity to critical destinations, including the Port of Melbourne and Melbourne International Airport. In order to accommodate rapidly growing freight movement, nationally significant industrial precincts in the south-east and the east must be linked with both the port and interstate supply chain corridors in the north and west of Melbourne. The LMA study attempts to show that improving the travel choice for businesses and individuals accessing goods, services, education and employment through the new east-west link will maximise Victoria’s competitive advantage, even though a comprehensive business case is yet to be published.
The study concentrates on evidence that Melbourne’s congestion and road network unreliability are getting worse. The annual cost of congestion is estimated to grow to $5 billion by 2021 and to $7.2 billion by 2031, more than double current levels. The East-West Link is intended to provide a long term alternative to the congested West Gate bridge and address growth forecasts in population, freight and traffic.
The project has been surrounded by controversy, in particular related to its very short design development and feasibility study period, which it seems has been fast-tracked by state and federal government for political motivations. The published project timeline by the LMA shown below suggests that the $8 billion Stage 1 of the East-West Link is to go ahead with just over a year of project planning.
The controversy has been stoked by industry reports showing that the previously considered $1.5 billion assistance for the Metro Rail Tunnel would have been a better use of public funds, with a capacity to shift the passenger equivalent of 24 lanes of freeway. Further reports by Infrastructure Australia, such as Spend more, waste more, argue that the existing level of road expenditure is unsustainable and unjustified.
As yet, there has been no East-West Link business case published by the state government. Writing in The Age, Senior Columnist Kenneth Davidson has suggested that this may in part be because it relies on increasing car dependence at the expense of public transport. The East-West Link ties into Planning Minister Matthew Guy’s Plan Melbourne, which envisages a growth in Melbourne’s population by 2020 of an extra 1.3 million people, almost all of whom will be housed in dwellings with one or two cars. Davidson suggests that “if the East-West Link goes ahead there will be no money for public transport for at least a generation, irrespective of political promises.”
Despite the strong criticism of the project, the current design for Stage 1 has been given the green light by the Naphtine government. The design for Stage 1 consists of :
- Twin 4.4km long, three lane tunnels connecting Eastern Freeway to Royal Park
- Tunnel portal west of Hoddle Street
- Tunnel portal in Royal Park
- Elevated roadways linking the tunnel to the City Link Tollway
- Eastern Freeway widening at the junction of Hoddle Street and Tram Road
- Upgrades to Hoddle Street in both north and south directions
- City Link connection to M1, M80 Freeways
- Connections to Port of Melbourne and Melbourne International Airport
The proposed tunnels are to be three lanes in each direction and will carry commercial and private vehicles. As part of the contract signing with the winning construction and maintenance consortium, the tunnel route and detailed design will be finalised and influenced by geological conditions along the route. The tunnels are likely to use a combination of construction methods because of different ground conditions and design requirements.
Some of the major issues raised with the current design proposal are the flyover connections to the City Link Tollway, which will effected the Ross Straw Field part of Royal Park, substantially compromise the adjacent wetlands, compromise the visual amenity of surrounding suburbs and significantly encroach on the Arden Street and Macaulay Road precincts.
In terms of project financing, Stage 1 of the East-West Link is being procured as an Availability Public Private Partnership (PPP), with the state government initially retaining tolling and traffic risk. Under the PPP model, the private sector designs, constructs, finances, operates and maintains the road to specified standards in exchange for availability payments over the term of the concession period. A competitive tender process commenced in late 2013 with a successful project proponent expected to be determined by late 2014. The Victorian State Government has contributed $294 million towards project procurement costs, with the Federal Government pledging an additional $1.5 billion towards Stage 1 Costs. The Federal Government has also recently announced an additional $1.5 billion towards the future costs of Stage 2.
Major criticisms of the project have come from community action groups such as the BetterEWL residential action group. In collaboration with architecture studio Atelier Red+ Black, they argue that the LMA did not undertake appropriate community consultation, a specific directive of the Planning Minister’s scoping directions for the project. The LMA instead developed a reference design that would have what it termed acceptable outcomes. To achieve the intent of the scoping directions, the LMA puts the onus on the tenderers, which according to BetterEWL is outside the statutory approval process. The BetterEWL team has also commented on the LMA’s lack of consideration for design alternatives as part of the statutory approval process. This and other public groups feel that the LMA should be required to go back and conduct a thorough investigation of the alternative designs presented.
The decision to build the first stage of the East-West Link has also been criticised as a misuse of public funds that could be better spent on public transport. This has been particularly highlighted by the City of Yarra-sponsered action group, Trains Not Toll Roads. Polls indicate that the Melbourne Metro Rail project is the preferred infrastructure option and is viewed as the infrastructure project of highest priority. The support of this group by the City of Yarra is particularly interesting for the Streets Without Cars agenda, as the design proposals will be looking at transforming and reimagining streets strategically selected throughout the municipality.
Further information on alternative designs proposals for the East-West Link’s controversial interchange and link to the City Link Tollway, visit the BetterEWL Alternative 1 and Alternative 2 information pages.
- East-West Link: Project overview; Linking Melbourne Authority.
- Rod Eddington; Investing in Transport overview; Department of Transport; 2008; p.5.
- East-West Link: Project benefits; Linking Melbourne Authority.
- East-West Link Stage 1 Short Form Business Case; Linking Melbourne Authority.
- Spend More, Waste More: Australia’s roads in 2014; Infrastructure Australia; 2014.
- Kenneth Davidson; East-West Link: The case against this road gets ever stronger; The Age; 28th July 2014.
- Tunnel Fact Sheet; Linking Melbourne Authority.
- East-West Link Stage 1 Short Form Business Case; Linking Melbourne Authority.
- Jason Dowling; Victoria gets federal budget funding for East-West Link but not airport rail; The Age; 14th May 2014.
- Design alternatives, BetterEWL.
- East-West Link Stage 1, copyright Linking Melbourne Authority; screen grab at 0:15 seconds.
- Project overview, author’s own image.
- Why the East-West Link, author’s own image.
- Timeline overview, author’s own image.
- Tunnel cross section, copyright Linking Melbourne Authority.
- Financing overview, author’s own image.
- Project criticism, author’s own image.
- A better alternative for Arden Macaulay, copyright Atelier Red + Black.
- A better alternative for Parkville, copyright Atelier Red + Black.