Freight Rail, Passenger Rail

IA approves $16bn Melbourne toll road

Hills M2 toll road (owned by Transurban) Photo: Creative Commons / Sardaka

Australia’s independent infrastructure advisor has approved Victoria’s proposed $15.8 billion North East Link toll road project, despite finding flaws in the state’s benefit-cost ratio analysis.

Infrastructure Australia (IA) on October 29 gave the green light to the business case for the project, which will build 11 kilometres of freeway between the M3 Eastern Freeway and M80 Ring Road between Doncaster and Greensborough.

The Victorian Government’s business case stated the toll road’s benefit-cost ratio (BCR) at 1.3, excluding wider economic benefits.

While IA says it identified limitations in Victoria’s analysis, “which are likely to overstate the BCR,” it also believes the Victorian Government’s analysis ignored “unquantified benefits” to the project.

“Currently, there are very few freeway options for travelling between Melbourne’s north and south-east, meaning drivers must pass through Melbourne’s inner city,” IA acting chief executive Anna Chau said.

“These roads are regularly congested with commuter traffic and freight traffic from the Port of Melbourne.”

Chau said the North East Link could shave up to 30 minutes off trips between the M80 and M3 Eastern Freeway, and noted Melbourne’s north east is home to around a fifth of the city’s population.

“Once delivered, the freeway will provide faster and more reliable trips to help people get to work and commercial districts, as well as improving quality of life for residents in these suburbs by moving traffic from arterial and local roads onto the new freeway.”

Federal cities, urban infrastructure and population minister Alan Tudge welcomed the IA report, noting the North East Link already has $1.75 billion in federal funding.

“The North East Link will keep Victoria moving and significantly slash travel times ensuring that we get people home safer and sooner,” he said.

Tudge also used the news as a chance to remind Victoria the Coalition still supported an East West Link toll road – the project famously cancelled in favour of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel by Daniel Andrews when he became premier in 2014.

“The East West Link remains a key priority for the Coalition Government and continues to be ranked as a high priority by Infrastructure Australia,” Tudge said.