Cloud over $5.5b Western Distributor with Coalition, Greens set to block toll plan

Artist impression of Transubran’s Western Distributor project. Photo: Supplied The interchange for the Western Distributor that will slice through the Hyde Street Reserve. Photo: Supplied
Nanjing Night Net

A major source of money for the Andrews government’s $5.5 billion Western Distributor road project could be stoppered by the Coalition and the Greens.

The project, which is currently out to tender, is designed to provide a major road alternative to the West Gate Bridge and ease truck congestion.

But central to the funding of the project is an extension of Transurban’s toll concession on CityLink for up to 12 years, which was part of its unsolicited pitch to the Andrews government for the road.

The state is contributing more than $1.6 billion to the project.

To extend the toll the government must table a change to the deed in parliament.

But with Labor controlling just 14 votes in the 40-member upper house, the Coalition and Greens could use their numbers to veto the toll extension.

This option is being actively considered.

Opposition to extending Transurban’s toll concession centres on a lack of transparency, with the released business case heavily redacted.

Greens MP Colleen Hartland has made numerous requests on behalf of residents, including fights at VCAT, for information on the project’s impact on locals, but is still in the dark.

Trucks on inner western suburbs streets has been an issue for residents for years and Ms Hartland said the plan only removes 6000 of 21,000 daily truck trips from the streets.

She also fears that without a truck ban, drivers would simply dodge tolls on the Western Distributor by continuing to drive on local roads.

A major new road should be popular for Labor, especially after it dumped the East West Link, but there are many questions about the project that could be politically difficult including extending tolling and a perception that Transurban is set to profit at the expense of motorists.

The Liberals have already argued that motorists in the eastern and south-eastern marginal seats should not be slugged for an extra decade on CityLink to help build a road that will benefit residents in the west.

Opposition roads spokesman Ryan Smith also has serious questions about the deal, and wants everything put on the table so parliament can properly scrutinise the project.

“When the Coalition and the Greens are on the same page then maybe the government is not doing the right thing,” Mr Smith said.

It would not be the first time the two parties have teamed up in the upper house.

The government’s plan for the sale of the Port of Melbourne was delayed by months after the Greens and Coalition used their numbers to block the original lease plan.

“Last time we worked with the Greens we got a good deal for Victoria,” Mr Smith said.

Some in Labor are likely to cry foul that the Greens and Coalition are in cahoots and try to score political points over a new alliance.

Coalition strategists are not worried about this, with such minutiae of upper house deals, not a major concern for voters.

Treasurer Tim Pallas said the project was “desperately needed”.

“Contracts are set to be signed by the end of the year, with the new tunnel and freeway completed and slashing traffic congestion by 2022,” Mr Pallas said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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