12/04/2016 - 09:17

Freo tunnel funding stirs criticism

12/04/2016 - 09:17

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The federal government's decision to inject an extra $260 million into the Perth Freight Link for construction of a road tunnel has drawn heated criticism, with the City of Fremantle saying an additional $1.4 billion was still required to address a core shortfall of the latest proposal.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull led a cabinet meeting in Perth today. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The federal government's decision to inject an extra $260 million into the Perth Freight Link for construction of a road tunnel has drawn heated criticism, with the City of Fremantle saying an additional $1.4 billion was still required to address a core shortfall of the latest proposal.

The extra $260.8 million brings the Commonwealth’s total commitment to the project to $1.2 billion, with the total cost of the Perth Freight Link now reaching $1.9 billion.

Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said today that construction of a tunnel from the Stock Road-Winterfold Road intersection to the junction of Stirling Highway and High Street in Fremantle was not supported by the City of Fremantle.

“The current $1.9 billion outlay for Roe 8 and the Roe 9 tunnel would be for a solution that is incomplete, short-sighted, has strong community opposition and won’t solve Perth’s ongoing freight and traffic issues,” Mr Pettitt said.

“Among other issues including severe impacts on local communities in Fremantle, the proposed 3 kilometre tunnel connecting Roe 8 to Stirling Highway still fails to address the most difficult connection – from Stirling Highway at High Street across the Swan River and into Fremantle Port. 

“We’ve become so frustrated by the lack of information from the state government on this critical aspect of the PFL, we’ve been forced to commission engineers to develop scenarios based on a massive new bridge and associated road works between North Fremantle and East Fremantle; or a very expensive tunnel option underneath Fremantle and the Swan River. 

“What that work shows is the extreme impacts this will have on the communities of East Fremantle and North Fremantle, with the only alternative to overcome those issues being an expensive and complex $1.4 billion tunnel into the port. 

“That would bring the total PFL project cost to almost $3.5 billion.”

But Premier Colin Barnett told reporters that tunnelling under the Swan River wasn’t on the cards at this stage.

He said the government would look at improvements to the existing bridge on Stirling Highway, but it would only be a focus after Roe 8 got under way.

The Perth Freight Link forms part of a number of highway upgrades aimed at improving the path for freight trucks to reach Fremantle Port.

Mr Pettitt said the City of Fremantle had instead thrown its support behind the development of a second harbour further south, which would allow Fremantle to handle manageable freight volumes in the future without the need for the sizeable investment in transport infrastructure.

“A second harbour not only provides a long-term solution to the efficient transport of Perth’s freight issues, it does it in a way which has far less impact on people’s everyday lives and the environment - $3.5 billion goes a long way towards such a smart long-term investment in Perth’s future transport needs, both freight and domestic,” he said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the freight link would improve connectivity around the city.

“It is a critically important piece of infrastructure, part of that linkage of connectivity that enables us to take advantage of these, the most exciting times of the most rapid economic growth, the most rapid scale of growth, in human history," Mr Turnbull said.

The federal government said in a statement that the new funds would allow a tender process to be carried out, as well as progressing environmental approvals.

“We stand ready to work with the Western Australian government to get this done as quickly as possible as a key initiative to help WA work through the current economic transition and to invest in future economic success,” it said.

Transport Minister Dean Nalder said the government wanted to start construction quickly.

It had been forced to go back to the drawing board following legal action by the Save Beeliar Wetlands protest group, resulting in the Supreme Court ruling the environmental approvals process for Roe 8 was invalid.

"Obviously, we need to finalise that situation as quickly as possible and then we need to start construction as soon as possible thereafter," Mr Nalder said.

"The question on Roe 8 was not around the project itself; it was around the process.

"We're determined to work through the processes."

He would not say whether both stages would be built simultaneously or whether contracts would be awarded before next year's state election.

Asked about fierce opposition to the tunnel plan by residents and conservationists, Mr Nalder said the project would save lives by reducing congestion and taking trucks off the busy Leach Highway.

He said fewer than 10 houses would need to be resumed.

"By tunnelling, we reduce the impact on houses and we will save some $400 million in acquisition costs on property," Mr Nalder said.

He said modelling showed that, by 2021, more than 76,000 vehicles a day would use Roe 8, improving the amenity of surrounding suburbs.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA chief executive Deidre Willmott welcomed the announcement, saying the Perth Freight Link would make it easier to do business by increasing connectivity between industrial centres, while reducing congestion and improving road safety for users.

“The Perth Freight Link has been rated by Infrastructure Australia as one of the highest priority projects in the nation, so CCI is pleased the federal government has provided additional funding and reconfirmed their commitment,” Ms Willmott said.

Greens deputy leader Scott Ludlam branded the proposed tunnel as a “$260 million underground car park”.

"Costings done by the Parliamentary Budget Office for the Greens show Mr Turnbull can save just shy of a billion dollars on a proposal the community has already rejected,” Senator Ludlam said.

"The Turnbull government has already thrown $100 million in the air by plugging a project that will rip through Beeliar wetlands whilst failing in its objectives.”

Labor spokeswoman Alannah MacTiernan said with stage one of the Perth Freight Link held up in the courts and no design or approval work completed on stage two, it will be years before shovels hit the ground on the tunnel – if ever.

“The Perth Freight Link has never been more than an ideological obsession of the WA Liberals, dreamt up to fill the funding black hole after $500 million earmarked for Perth public transport was ripped from the Budget in 2014,” Ms MacTiernan said in a statement.

“It is a suboptimum project that only delays the long-term solution to growing our exports and imports – building the Outer Harbour, with proper road/rail linkages.

“In a report to be released this month by the Commonwealth-funded RDA Perth, the Outer Harbour is recognised as the number one infrastructure priority for WA.”

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