by Gerry McLoughlin, Architect, Urban Designer and Secretary of IMPA
Western Distributor Proposal
Transurban pitched a $5.5 billion plan to the Andrews government to build a new freeway through Melbourne's west days before the May State Budget. In return, Transurban would get the tolls from the new road and an extension to its CityLink contract for 10 to 15 years.
CityLink took revenue of $143 million in the first three months of 2015. CityLink is the second most profitable toll road in the world.
Tim Salathiel, Transurban's Head of Public Affairs in Victoria, was Treasurer Tim Pallas’ adviser and briefly his Chief of Staff during the Brumby government, when Mr. Pallas was Roads Minister.
Mr. Salathiel began work with Transurban in February, 2015, as its Government Affairs Director. He is a long-time ALP member and worked as an electorate officer for almost six years for Labor MPs.
The Head of Corporate Affairs for Transurban is Alison Crossweller, a former adviser to the Brumby government. Both Mr. Salathiel and Ms. Crossweller are named as Government Affairs Directors on the Victorian Public Sector Commission's Register of Lobbyists.
The government announced late April that it would work with the toll road operator on the $5.5 billion Western Distributor plan.
The project would have Transurban extend the life of its CityLink tolls up to 2050, and this would probably earn $1.5 billion to $2 billion from motorists.
In return it would build a proposed tunnel and elevated toll road connecting the West Gate Freeway with the Port of Melbourne, CityLink and the CBD, in a bid to ease pressure on the West Gate Bridge.
Transurban proposes to put a $3 toll on cars and $13 on trucks for the new tunnel and bridge for 25 years, further boosting its profits by at least $1.5 billion.
Transurban told the ASX (1st week of May) that its concept for the Western Distributor had been submitted to the state government earlier this year.
Background - about Transurban
Transurban manages and develops urban toll road networks in Australia and the USA.
Transurban was founded in Melbourne in 1995 with CityLink – their first road and one that they still operates today. Transurban has expanded to Sydney, Brisbane and Washington DC, however their global head office still remains in Melbourne where many of their 1000 employees are based.
- The Australian Financial Review (30/4/15) opinion piece poses that, in concept, the 2nd stage of the East West Link is being revived and says it has been agreed with Dan Andrews.
- Radio 3AW (5/5/15) said Transurban had obviously been working on this new design of East West Link Stage 2 since the 1st December 2014 when the Andrews' Labor was elected.
- It was not mentioned in the ALP 2014 Project 21 Transport Policy election document alongside the ALP's Westgate Distributor, which is now proposed to be extended to Flemington.
- There are no State funds required as it claims that it will be funded 1/3 by the Fed's, 1/3 by CityLink Tolls & 1/3 by another extension of Transurban's CityLink Concession Deed (subject to Federal acceptance).
- It is understood that Transurban was given one Concession Deed extension for it partly funding the CityLink Widening Project, which the ALP was silent on during the election campaign (except for the section from Melrose Drive Tullamarine to the Airport which they openly supported).
- Josh Gordon, The Age (1/5/15) reports that The Andrews Government is likely to be very interested… “Transurban's unsolicited proposal ticks several boxes for Andrews. It is, from a political point of view, dazzlingly attractive.
First, it involves cars; answering the complaints of those who say Andrews has been running a strident anti-roads agenda after his decision to dump the East West Link contract
Second, the proposal presents a neat solution to some of Melbourne's transport problems in the west; cutting travel times to and from the city, removing trucks from suburban streets, linking in to the port, and providing a new road artery to relieve the bridge.
Third, Transurban says work can start this year; answering business complaints about a lack of immediate work.”
- Transurban has undertaken a Join the Conversation online survey process, which closed 21 May 2015.
- Transurban has submitted a proposal to the Victorian Government for the Western Distributor - a project to address some of Melbourne’s most critical traffic, growth and liveability challenges.
- While the government assesses Transurban’s proposal, they are continuing discussions with stakeholders and communities to understand what factors are important in the design of the Western Distributor. Requests for input are requested and a series of community engagement dates have been arranged till the 13 June 2015.
Community concerns that have been sent to IMPA Inc. include the following:
- That the Transurban's new proposal seems to set a worrying precedent for a privately owned company which dominates the East Coast Roads environment to make government road/transport policy by back-door negotiation without any consultation.
- That this proposal is very like projects that were developed in the Truck Action Plan during the Brumby Government.
- No consultation has been undertaken by the State Government with the community at large on this very significant project proposal.
- That this is the western part of the East West Link which provides the opportunity and the potential for the East–West component to be revived should a future state Government decide to proceed with it.
- That Transurban has had consistent issues with residents along the Moonee Valley corridor identified in the Panel Hearing for the E-W Link in achieving its noise standards It is not monitored nor held to account by VicRoads as it is a privately operated road.
- Transport Planners have commented that there is a risk that this proposal may be over-designed to extend their toll collector mandate (Deed), and induce more traffic to boost their tolls, without necessarily being the best community transport solutions with proper noise/pollution mitigation.
- That with the cancelling of the E-W Link Project by the Andrew's Government as part of their Election promises the question of the Federal Government $1.5b already given to the State of Victoria originally earmarked for the Metro Rail Project then shifted to the East-West Tunnel project by the outgoing Napthine Government is in question. Recent reports are that the Federal Government is demanding that the $1.5b be returned to go into a locked box earmarked for the E-W Link project for the future.
The Age, Clay Lucus (5/5/15), Josh Gordon Senior Political Writer (1/5/15); the Financial Review, Lucille Keen (21/5/15 & 30/4/15); and general commentary from IMPA members and others.