After years of planning and consultation with the community, work is progressing on building the missing link in Melbourne’s freeway network.

Scheduled for completion in 2028, North East Link will connect the M80 Ring Road to an upgraded Eastern Freeway, slashing travel times by up to 35 minutes and taking 15,000 trucks off local roads daily.

Along with Victoria’s longest road tunnels, the North East Link Program will overhaul the Eastern Freeway, deliver Melbourne’s first dedicated busway, complete the M80 Ring Road in Greensborough and build the North East Trail – more than 34km of walking and cycling paths.

An $11.1 billion contract has recently been awarded to the Spark consortium to deliver the North East Link tunnels. During 2022, the project team is setting its sights on completing its big program of early works, getting to work on the tunnels and putting the freeway upgrade packages out to market.

There are already more than 1,000 people working on North East Link, and the project is set to create more than 10,000 jobs, with an estimated 8,000 jobs on the tunnelling package alone.

Delivering key travel savings for the north-east

North East Link CEO, Duncan Elliott, said with more than half a million Victorians living within two kilometres of a planned North East Link interchange, the project will change the way people move around Melbourne and connect people to jobs and education.

“At the moment, anyone travelling between the east and north of Melbourne has a lengthy and unpredictable journey that can take anywhere up to 90 minutes and sometimes even two hours as drivers have to leave the freeway network and weave along congested local roads,” Mr Elliott said.

“North East Link will shift this traffic into the new tunnels, providing a quicker and easier link for 135,000 vehicles a day – slashing travel times and leaving local roads for local trips.”

Mr Elliott also said with the strong growth expected in Victorian and Melbourne freight over the next 30 years, North East Link is critical to help businesses get goods where they need to go and clear residential areas of heavy truck traffic.

“The project will increase productivity for businesses by linking farms, industrial areas and distribution centres in the south east with the Hume Freeway and key destinations in the north, including markets, freight hubs and Melbourne Airport,” Mr Elliott said.

“For a tradie in Bundoora, it will open up jobs in Doncaster. A small business in Dandenong can access warehousing in Tullamarine and a student from Glen Waverley can get to university at La Trobe.”

Big step forward with designs released

In a major milestone for the project, updated designs for North East Link were released in October 2021, including a longer tunnel to Watsonia.

Simpler underground interchanges create more space for a new tree-lined boulevard for Greensborough Road and more than 50 MCGs worth of new, revived and reconnected parklands.

It’s a significant design update, and one that shows careful consideration of the legacy this project will leave for the  north-east. The M80 Ring Road will also be completed, with new lanes, smart technology and a seamless interchange with North East Link.

Improved technology on the Eastern Freeway and more than 45km of new lanes will work together to slash travel times by up to eleven minutes.

The Eastern Express Busway will make it quicker and easier to get to and from the city on public transport, with new parks and rides at Bulleen and Doncaster and a bus every minute in peak times.

Plans for the North East Trail have been expanded, with 34km of new and upgraded walking and cycling paths linking the north east to Yarra River trails and parklands.

Mr Elliott said that the local community has played an important role in the project’s designs. “We started talking to the community early – their local knowledge, combined with our team’s engineering and planning expertise, is ensuring we understand local issues and get the best outcomes,” Mr Elliott said.

“We will continue to work closely with the community, and in the coming months there will be opportunities for local people to comment on local elements of the design when we start exhibiting urban design and landscape plans.”

Building a legacy of skilled victorian workers

North East Link will create more than 10,000 jobs with more than 1,000 people already working on the huge program of works. The North East Link Skills and Jobs Centre is now open in Watsonia, providing a one stop shop for local workers, jobseekers and social enterprises looking for opportunities with North East Link.

Mr Elliott said that the sheer scale of job creation on North East Link created a great opportunity for the next generation of workers with apprentices, trainees and cadets to play a huge part in delivering the state’s biggest road project.

At least ten per cent of construction hours on North East Link will be worked by apprentices and trainees, linking people from the classroom to the workforce.

The project will also employ a range of priority jobseekers, encouraging more women in construction and helping to build the next generation of skilled Aboriginal talent with a 2.5 per cent Aboriginal employment target.

“We’ll be creating local jobs for local people with a huge range of roles needed to plan, design and build North East Link. We’ve worked with Apprenticeships Victoria to launch our dedicated Skills and Jobs Centre in Watsonia to connect locals to training and job opportunities on the project,” Mr Elliott said.

The project will also make use of the Australian-first Victorian Tunnelling Centre that has been set up with Holmesglen Institute to support the state’s unprecedented pipeline of transport projects.

Big things happening in the year ahead

Since 2020, the project’s big early works program has been moving major gas, power and sewer lines out of the way of North East Link, undertaking soil testing, and upgrading community facilities for sports clubs that need to relocate during construction – including  a major $21 million investment in a new 18-court tennis centre in Glen Waverley.

This year will see North East Link complete its early works and continue to build the Bulleen Park & Ride – the first part of Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway busway.

Local sporting clubs will benefit from the upgraded facilities the project has built, while North East Link shifts its focus to building Victoria’s longest road tunnels and goes out to market for the next major elements of the project, including a massive overhaul of the

Eastern Freeway and the completion of the M80 Ring Road. It’s part of an approach to use the market efficiently, allowing a range of contractors to deliver parts of the project – from international Tier 1 companies, through to Tier 2 and 3 and smaller sub-contractors – to utilise the full capability of the market.

“A project the size of North East Link doesn’t come around very often and that’s why we’re making the most of the opportunities this presents – whether that’s by training the next generation of workers, providing opportunities for local companies or delivering better designs for the community with more open spaces,” Mr Elliott said.

“It’s an exciting time to be part of this project that will transform Melbourne’s north-east.” North East Link is jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments.

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