Victoria

Environmental study for $5.5b road to start in weeks – but no final route set

An environmental assessment of the proposed Western Distributor tollway through Melbourne's west will begin next month, although a final route for the road has not been set.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne has signed an order for an Environment Effects Statement process to begin, based on a route laid out by tollroad operator Transurban in September.

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New toll road for Melbourne's west

A $5.5 billion new toll road, the Western Distributor, will be built in Melbourne's west. (Video supplied by Victorian State Government)

Treasurer Tim Pallas on Tuesday said the process of evaluating that plan would begin in February.

Transurban has also said an alternative route is on the table, for a longer tunnel affecting fewer residents and with less of an impact on parks.

The government's social impact assessment for the route the government will now consider notes the West Gate Golf Course, Stony Creek Reserve, and parks including the McIvor Reserve and McLean Reserve will be negatively affected.

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"Widening of the freeway may lead to a reduction in the separation distance between some residential areas and the freeway," a planning assessment for Mr Wynne also says.

The Western Distributor project is a $5.5 billion tollway Transurban wants to build in return for a 15-year extension of tolls on its CityLink.

The project will widen the West Gate Freeway to 12 lanes, build a connection between the West Gate Bridge and CityLink, and build new CBD off and on-ramps at Footscray Road, Dynon Road and Wurundjeri Way.

Transport experts fear funnelling thousands more cars to CBD roads will reverse years of work encouraging fewer motorists into the city centre.

The project was first pitched to Mr Pallas by Transurban while he was opposition Treasury spokesman, but was kept secret until six months after Labor won the 2014 state election.

A project business case with key sections heavily redacted was released publicly in December, only once the government confirmed the project was going ahead.

Mr Pallas said the government had been "open and transparent by immediately releasing the business case".

"We want to ensure that the local community and businesses gets the opportunity to have their say on this vital project by running the Environmental Effects Statement process", he said. 

"This will be a comprehensive planning process to ensure that the … project addresses impacts on the community and industry."

The process will look at the potential social, economic and environmental impacts of building the massive road project.

It will commence in February. Mr Pallas said it would continue consultation work already done by Transurban before the government had agreed to proceed with the project.

Construction of the Western Distributor will start in early 2018 with completion of the full project by 2022.

Opposition roads spokesman Ryan Smith said completing an Environment Effects Statement process without a final route was highly unusual because the project had no confirmed route. "Local affected residents need certainty about the final plan and this premature process will not help," Mr Smith said.

Greens leader Greg Barber said a legitimate Environment Effects Statement would look an alternatives to the project, such as public transport and freight rail. "But they won't do it. The Premier's already announced this road is going ahead," he said.

"This is why new rail transport [is not built to] the new suburbs, let alone the old ones – a road builder puts forward a road project instead of the government saying 'We want a transport project', and then asking what's the best one."

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