Private Plan for Road and Tunnel Freeway Link

A private consortium wants to build a ring road linking the Tullamarine and West Gate freeways with the South-Eastern Arterial Road via a tunnel under the Domain. Details of the $600-$800 million proposal have been lodged with the Treasurer, Mr. Roper, under the Government’s new guidelines for private-sector funding of public infrastructure projects.

The proposal has three sections: building a western bypass between the Tullamarine Freeway and Footscray Road, improving the section of Footscray Road linking the bypass with the Freeway and building a tunnel under the Domain and Yarra River to link the GenF20 Freeway with the South-Eastern Arterial Road. In all it amounts to nine kilometers of new road.

The Domain tunnel would start in Grant Street and surface on the South-Eastern Arterial Road between Punt Road and Cremorne Street. The proposal has been put together by three companies involved in the financing and construction of the 2.3 kilometer Sydney Harbor tunnel. They are the Infrastructure Development Corporation, Transfield and Acer Wargon Chapman.

At $750 million, Sydney Harbor tunnel is Australia’s largest privately funded public works project. A director of Acer Wargon Chapman, Mr. Alan Hale, said yesterday that the road sections could be built concurrently, providing up to 2000 jobs, and would involve minimal disruption to traffic flows. He said it would not interrupt normal activity on the Domain or nearby sporting venues. He said the project would be fully privately funded and an electronic toll system or fuel levy would be needed to help recover costs. “I am absolutely convinced that this project is feasible and could be privately funded,” Mr. Hale said. “While the tunnel had not been on the Government’s priority list in the past, the western bypass has, and I believe the situation has changed with the Swanston Walk proposal and the need to divert city traffic. “We would be very surprised, given that it is a privately funded proposal, if they would not go to the next step under the infrastructure guidelines. I’m sure there will be interest from other consortiums.”

A spokesman for Mr. Roper confirmed yesterday that the proposal had been received, but said it was too early to comment on its merit. “Even the simple issue of building a Domain tunnel would need considerable discussion,” he said. The Melbourne City Council’s chief executive officer, Ms. Elizabeth Proust, said last night that the council had no formal policy on a tunnel, although it had been discussed with various city groups during the Swanston Walk planning process. “Without trying to second guess the council’s attitude, I think we would see it as a necessary longer-term traffic measure. We would be supportive provided the plans included no more bridges over the Yarra. The exhaust vents in the Domain parkland would also concern us,” she said.

A second group has also announced plans to put together a tunnel-highway proposal. The engineering consultancy Kinhill is investigating six possible routes between the West Gate Freeway and the South-Eastern Arterial Road. Kinhill’s executive director is Mr. Kingsley Culley, a former general manager of the Board of Works.