Tunnelling machinery on the North East Link project.
Victoria's $26.1 billion North East Link toll road is set to open in 2028. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Vic toll road given $3.25b boost in federal cash top-up

May 9, 2024

Victoria’s cost blowout-plagued $26.1 billion North East Link toll road has been given a $3.25 billion top up as part of a federal budget commitment.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed the money for the project alongside federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King and Premier Jacinta Allan on Thursday.

“Next week’s budget will contribute an additional $3.25 billion for this project, bringing the Commonwealth investment up to $5 billion,” Mr Albanese told reporters at Watsonia.

“My government will work with state and territory governments across the board on nation-building infrastructure such as this project here, which is really fitting in a missing link in the Victorian road network.”

The funding will go towards the non-tolled parts of the road, including the M80 Ring Road connections and Eastern Freeway upgrades.

The major road project in Melbourne’s east was originally tipped to cost $10 billion when it was unveiled in 2016 and priced at $15.8 billion in the 2017 business case.

In December, a new price tag of $26.1 billion was revealed.

Construction is under way on the 10km-long connection between the Ring Road and Eastern Freeway which is set to be as wide as 20 lanes in some sections and includes 6.5km of tunnels.

“The North East Link project has been talked about for such a long time –  it’s been talked about for decades,” Ms Allan said.

“Indeed, it’s been a dotted line on the Melway map for longer than I’ve been alive.”

Anthony Albanese at the North East Link site.
 Anthony Albanese says his government works with states and territories on nation-building projects. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

The state government signed a $11.1 billion deal in 2021 with Spark consortium to build, operate and maintain the project’s tunnel toll road.

It is expected to cut travel times between Melbourne’s north and southeast by up to 35 minutes and take 15,000 trucks off local roads each day when completed in 2028.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto said the federal cash injection would not cover one-fifth of the overspending that had plagued the project.

“The Albanese government needs to understand that when it’s giving money to the Allan Labor government … it’s just plugging up the blowouts and not even completely,” he said on Thursday.

Mr Pesutto said the federal government should be using that cash to resolve the dispute over Melbourne Airport Rail instead.

The Public Transport Users’ Association slammed the budget boost for the “massively costly but poorly-appreciated dumpster fire” project.

“Even if this road does what no other road in the world has done and fulfils the promise of the 2018 business case, on current costs it’s barely returning 50 cents in the dollar for Victorians,” it said in a statement.

North East Link
 Victoria’s .1 billion North East Link toll road is set to open in 2028. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

The announcement comes ahead of the federal budget on May 14 and after the state budget was revealed on Tuesday.

In his 10th budget, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas revealed Melbourne Airport Rail would be completed at least four years later than its original 2029 target.

Construction on the mega project has stalled as the government and airport remain at odds over whether the Tullamarine station should be underground or elevated.

On Wednesday, Mr Pallas suggested that if the the stand-off continued, the state might start shifting its efforts to make Avalon Airport towards Geelong more accessible.

Mr Albanese on Thursday said the federal government would not be intervening.

“We don’t control Melbourne Airport,” he said. 

Melbourne Airport had previously been part of a consortium that offered up to $7 billion towards an underground station but it was rejected by the government.