By Rachel Evans MELBOURNE — The Kennett government's shameless handouts to big business have reached new heights with the massive City Link road project. The social and environmental costs of this new tollway will be catastrophic for Victoria. The $1.7 billion project consists of a 22 kilometre tollway system with six toll points, two monuments and two tunnels. In late July the Kennett government signed the contract with Transurban, contributing over $247 million of taxpayers money to kick-start the project. The government will also bear the estimated $200 million cost of relocating port facilities. The deal has a life of 34 years, with City Link paying a meagre $100 rent per year for land worth $80 million. Despite studies showing that more highways lead to further vehicle congestion, City Link propaganda promises to "remove congestion on Melbourne's roadways". Furthermore, City Link is a city bypass, yet 90% of Melbourne's traffic is city bound. The cost to City Link users is estimated at between $338-$1500 per year. This is despite the recent back-down by Kennett on his proposal to charge car owners $30 for the transponder — an electronic device fixed to the car which records vehicles movement — required to use the tollway. With that concession made, however, the government has proceeded to do all in its power to ensure Transurban makes the maximum possible profit. While Kennett has declared that the government would be liable for nothing and that the investors would take all the risk, legislation has been passed which ensures that the government will compensate Transurban for any losses. This is despite the fact that studies show City Link will hand investors a profit rate of 16% (an average share investment returns 10-12%). The government has also lied about road closures, and the their reduced capacity which will force motorists to use the City Link. The Melbourne City Link Bill also ensures that:
- If any union or community actions disrupt the construction of City Link the state government will compensate Transurban's lost profits.
- No social or environmental impact assessments are to be conducted as all planning laws have been waived for Transurban.
- Compensation will only be paid for private land acquisition. Residents, local authorities and other businesses cannot claim compensation for damage or lost profits.
- If traffic flow along City Link is reduced as a result of public transport developments in the future the government will compensate Transurban.
- Fines up to $135 will be imposed on motorists caught evading tolls.
- In a move which echoes the Victorian Grand Prix Bill the government can declare "no go" zones during construction to limit protest action against City Link.