Announcing the plan today, Premier Daniel Andrews said it will initiate a $35 million business case study in 2017, with consultation and route selection to be completed by 2018.
The link would take 10 years to complete, the government said, while creating "tens of thousands" of jobs. Funding for the project will come from a combination of state government contribution and usage tolls.
“This is it – the missing link that will connect our city – and we will get it done," the premier said today.
“When we build the missing link that completes the ring road, you’ll be able to drive from Ringwood to Tullamarine without stopping at a single traffic light.”
But, in a move dubbed "just spin" by opposition roads spokesman Ryan Smith, the Andrews government says it will not sign any contracts before the next election, "giving the Victorian community their say on this vital project without binding future governments".
Andrews' comment is a reference to the Coalition government's East West link contract commitment, which the Andrews government scrapped - at a cost of $1.1 billion to the taxpayer.
The Andrews government says contracts will be signed and work started only under a re-elected Labor government - an outcome that won't be determined until late November, 2018.
As if to prove its capabilities when it comes to infrastructure, the Andrews government said that the project will be run under the auspices of the same office that has carried out or begun other major roads projects in the state.
"The project will be spearheaded by a new expert North East Link Authority, overseen by the Victorian Coordinator General, under the same model used to progress the Metro Tunnel, the Western Distributor, and the removal of Melbourne’s 50 worst level crossings," the government said in a statement today.
"The project will slash travel time on congested roads in Melbourne’s north, south, and east. It will take thousands of trucks off local streets in the north-eastern suburbs, and connect the southern and eastern suburbs to Tullamarine Airport."
Victoria's minister for roads and road safety, Luke Donellan, said the North East Link is "a no-brainer" for taking thousands of cars and trucks off local streets and congested freeways, "but governments have put it in the too-hard basket for decades".
“The Andrews Labor Government will build the North East Link – the only project that can actually slash congestion in Melbourne’s north, south, and east, while the Western Distributor fixes traffic in the west," he said.
The project has its share of detractors.
Speaking with The Age, Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said the North East Link will do little to reduce congestion.
"They claim it's going to be so much easier to drive to the airport from the eastern suburbs, I think that might be true for about two weeks after it opens," he said.
Morton said a more appropriate move would be to "boost the alternatives", suggesting the government has again avoided the need for a rail line to Melbourne Airport.
The Victorian Greens rejected the plan, with transport spokesperson Samantha Dunn telling The Age that the North East Link will only "pour even more traffic onto the already congested Eastern Freeway".
The project has support from powerful organisations, however, including the Victorian Transport Industry, business groups, and by the RACV.
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