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Doubts over the $16 billion North East Link are emerging within the Andrews government and the construction industry, in the face of an economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.
Government sources who would not be identified said Treasury officials were reassessing the state’s most expensive road project, as bureaucrats review Labor’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure pipeline to prepare for a looming recession.
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan says construction projects will enable the state’s economy to be rebuilt after the crisis.CREDIT:JASON SOUTH
Key election promises including the $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop and the airport rail link, expected to cost between $8 billion and $13 billion, are also being reassessed in light of the pandemic, the sources said.
Despite the concerns, Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said on Friday the North East Link would proceed, along with the rail line to the airport and the Suburban Rail Loop – the most expensive transport project ever considered in Victoria.
Ms Allan said construction projects would enable the state’s economy to be rebuilt after the crisis. “We won’t stop delivering the projects Victoria needs,” she said. “We will build Airport Rail, North East Link, Suburban Rail Loop and every project we promised to deliver.”
Tendering to build the 26-kilometre North East Link, which connects the Metropolitan Ring Road in Greensborough to the Eastern Freeway in Bulleen, continues despite attempts by some councils to stop the project in court.
Four councils took Planning Minister Richard Wynne to the Supreme Court on Friday, seeking to overturn his approval for the project.
An artist's impression of a section of the North East Link. Major construction on the project is due to start next year.CREDIT:VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT
Banyule, Boroondara, Whitehorse and Manningham councils argue the environmental effects statement underpinning the project was vastly inadequate and must be redone. Friday's hearing resulted in Justice Greg Garde ordering the government to produce evidence refuting arguments by the councils by next month, before a trial in September.
Major construction on the North East Link is due to start next year, but government sources, the construction industry and even those involved in bidding to build the North East Link said the coronavirus pandemic had heightened uncertainty about the project.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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