But the government argues that while car and truck drivers will use the North East Link to travel between Melbourne’s north and south-east, most will not use it to go into the city centre.
“Locals have talked about this road for so long – we’re getting on with it to give road users the cut in travel times they have been waiting for,” a government spokeswoman said.
Widening the Eastern Freeway would “improve the performance of the EastLink tunnels by clearing bottlenecks and creating efficient traffic flow”.
The Victorian opposition has jumped on the warning, saying it is evidence the East West Link, a road it tried to build more than five years ago, is still desperately needed.
Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said it was obvious that the East West Link was now needed.
“The huge surge in additional traffic from the North East Link will push down the Eastern Freeway, coming to a congested dead end at Hoddle Street.”
The North East Link will be the most expensive road ever built in Victoria. It is designed to remove 15,000 trucks from local roads and slash up to 30 minutes in travel time between the Eastern Freeway and the Metropolitan Ring Road.
It will start in Greensborough, tunnel under Bulleen, then join the Eastern Freeway.
About 100,000 cars a day are expected to pour from the new road onto the Eastern Freeway, which will undergo a multibillion-dollar widening, from six to 10 lanes to 20 lanes in places.
But while the project turbo-charges the Eastern Freeway, there are no upgrades at constraints at either ends of it – at Hoddle Street in Clifton Hill, and the EastLink tunnels in Donvale.
In 2014 Premier Daniel Andrews tore up the Napthine government’s contract to build the East West Link, arguing that it was a “dud road”.
The secret East West Link business case prepared for the Napthine government showed a return of only 45 cents for every dollar spent.
While cancelling the contract ultimately cost the state $1.1 billion, the Premier has vowed no government he leads will ever build it.
Mr Andrews refused Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s offer earlier this year of $4 billion to build the East West Link.
At the panel hearings, Mr O’Brien said the need for the East West Link was one of the “underlying assumptions” of the North East Link project.
“One of the underlying assumptions not stated in the Environmental Effects Statement documentation is that the Hoddle Street queues are mitigated by another major infrastructure project – [in other words] the East West Link,” he said.
He is appearing at the hearings for Boroondara, Banyule and Whitehorse councils, which oppose aspects of the motorway, along with Manningham council.
Melbourne University transport expert Crystal Legacy said it was obvious building the North East Link would make the East West Link inevitable. “It’s incredibly cynical politics,” she said.
Mr O’Brien said the North East Link would put more pressure on the EastLink tunnels, which would have to be duplicated in order to avoid worsening congestion.
“The NEL project would fail to provide the claimed benefit without duplication of the EastLink tunnels,” he wrote in his submission to the hearings.
Greens MP Sam Hibbins said the North East Link was “a precursor project to the East West Link” that would “result in a massive bottleneck at Hoddle Street, which will increase the political pressure for the East West Link to be built”.
North East Link acting chief executive Jim Waller said “would be no material change to traffic volumes along Hoddle Street south of the Eastern Freeway.”
Timna Jacks is Transport Reporter at The Age
Clay Lucas is a senior reporter for The Age. Clay has worked at The Age since 2005, covering urban affairs, transport, state politics, local government and workplace relations for The Age and Sunday Age.
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