Melbourne’s North East Link is one step closer to completion with segments of the first tunnel boring machine (TBM) to dig the twin road tunnels lowered into the ground.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Danny Pearson, and Federal Member for Jagajaga, Kate Thwaites, visited the Watsonia site where two of the largest TBMs in the southern hemisphere will start digging the 6.5km tunnels in mid-2024.

The first pieces of the machines were lowered into the ground by a 550t gantry crane. When assembled, each 4,000t TBM will be 90m long and more than 15m wide.

The TBMs will work their way south from Watsonia toward Bulleen, while crews begin installing tunnel walls made of almost 44,000 individual concrete segments, manufactured locally in Benalla.

Across the north-east, work is underway to prepare for tunnelling. A 200m long TBM launch box in Watsonia has been completed, and work has started on the underground box structures near Lower Plenty Road and Manningham Road where the TBMs will excavate into on their journey south.

From late March 2024, drivers in Bulleen will notice changes to how they use Bulleen Road, Manningham Road and Bridge Street to allow for further works to continue on the Manningham interchange. 

The changes are expected to stay in place for up to two years to keep traffic moving during construction.

Barriers and worksites are being set up along the Eastern Freeway and M80 Ring Road, so crews can upgrade the freeways that will connect to the North East Link tunnels.

The North East Link, the M80 Ring Road Completion and the Eastern Freeway Upgrades are expected to open in 2028 and are funded in joint partnership by the federal and state governments.

Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, said, “This is a valuable step towards constructing a new motorway between the M80 Ring Road at Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen Road.

“The project will provide Melbourne with a complete orbital road connection for the first time, reducing travel times for both freight and commuter traffic and taking trucks off the local streets in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.”

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Danny Pearson, said, “This is another significant milestone for North East Link – getting us closer to moving trucks off local roads and slashing travel times across the north-east.

“We’re getting on with assembling TBMs on site so tunnelling can kick off in the coming months – building the longer 6.5km tunnels the community asked for.”

Federal Member for Jagajaga, Kate Thwaites, said, “Not only will this project be a game-changer for commuters, it’s also providing a welcome jobs and economic boost for the region during construction.

“More than 5,000 workers are already working across North East Link, the Eastern Freeway Upgrade and M80 Ring Road – with an incredible 12,000 jobs to be created over the life of the projects.”

Featured image: One of the tunnel boring machines. Image credit: Major Road Projects Victoria. 

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