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Melbourne’s $6.7bn West Gate Tunnel could be delayed until 2023 as an escalating dispute over the handling of contaminated soil threatens to derail the project.
Transurban, the toll road operator responsible for delivering the development, conceded the fallout from the environmental standoff could result in more delays.
“As it stands, and we’re currently reviewing the project, the contractor has informed us that the project is unlikely to be completed by the end of 2022 and there is pressure on the project schedule,” Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton said on Tuesday.
“The schedule is under pressure, but we are two years in a five-year build at this point in time.”
Tunnelling has yet to start after originally being scheduled for mid-2019.
A delay in receiving tunnelling machines saw the start date put back to October and on January 30 contractors CPB and John Holland attempted to terminate their contract due to polyfluorinated alkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS firefighting foam, found within the site.
Transurban said it was hopeful of finding a solution to the contamination problem within the next few months, but said a suitable site had not yet been identified.
“Everyone’s been working collaboratively to try and find a solution. We are hopeful that in the next few months. We will have a technical solution and then we’ll work through the other commercial arrangements as we go forward,” Mr Charlton said.
“It’s just been an evolving issue and we’ve had to work through the process to make sure that the spoil is treated safely, and disposed of in environmentally approved way.”
The Australian reported Transurban had been warned six months ago that the joint venture partners intended to terminate the contract unless an agreement could be reached over disposal of the contaminated soil.
The toll road giant said there were a variety of rights and notices applicable under the contract.
“We received a notice that they reserve the right to potentially call a force majeure, but under the contract, they have lots of rights to do everything. So they reserve the right doesn’t mean that they would actually issue the force majeure event,” Mr Charlton said.
“So we are aware of that. But at the time this was reserving the right that already existed on the contract, so it was nothing really new.”
The West Gate Tunnel is designed to provide a second river crossing in addition to the 220,000-vehicle-a-day West Gate Bridge, linking Melbourne’s western suburbs to the southeastern suburbs and airport via CityLink.
The project’s $6.7bn price tag includes $2.7bn from the state government and $4bn from Transurban, in exchange for which the toll road company has received approval to increase tolls by 4.25 per cent every year for a decade, netting it an extra $37.3bn by 2045 according to Parliamentary Budget Office calculations.
Victorian opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said Mr Charlton had “belled the cat” on the West Gate Tunnel timeline.
“It looks increasingly unlikely that a 2022 completion date will be achieved,” Mr Davis said.
“Labor should have worked to sort the toxic spoil problems ahead of time.”
Mr Davis said it was also clear Transurban had been a “big winner” from its deal with the Andrews government to increase tolls on existing roads to pay for the tunnel.
[img]https://cdn.newsapi.com.au/image/v1/a9f6e87734832663f0b5c32bb15f84c3?width=650[/img]Melbourne’s $6.7bn West Gate Tunnel could be delayed until 2023 as an escalating dispute over the handling of contaminated soil threatens to derail the project. Picture: Tony Gough
“Toll revenue is surging, but the big losers are commuters, who are being hit in the neck week after week now, on existing CityLink roads to pay for a road that they may never use and which is not even constructed yet,” he said.
“We opposed the government’s concession deed bonanza with Transurban.
“We sought to disallow it in the Upper House twice, but Labor and their patsy independents gave the tick to Transurban and kneecapped commuters.
“It’s time Daniel Andrews and (Transport Infrastructure Minister) Jacinta Allan came clean and were honest with the community about the timeline, the tolls, the toxic soil, the lot,” Mr Davis said.
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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