Melbourne’s West Gate Tunnel project – which should have begun construction almost 12 months ago – has had the proposed completion date pushed out to 2023 as all the stakeholders continue to disagree on how to treat contaminated soil discovered at several sites.
Jacinta Allan, Victoria’s Minister for Transport Infrastructure, explained that the 2022 deadline was part of the contractual agreement between the government and Transurban – the main contractor for the project.
“We’ve made it clear we intend to hold Transurban to that contract and what’s contained in that contract is that for every day that this project is not completed beyond 2022, Transurban lose millions of dollars,” Ms Allan said.
“The Government’s message to Transurban is really clear; you’ve got to get on, resolve the dispute with the builders, resolve the disposal of the soil from the tunnel boring activities, get those tunnel boring machines going as quickly as possible and honour the commitment and the contract that Transurban has signed.”
In a statement to investors, Transurban has explained that it was working towards requirements in order to obtain the “necessary planning and environmental approvals”, so that the contaminated material could be disposed of at sites designated by the company.
When the contaminated soil was discovered, John Holland and CPB, subcontractors hired to complete work on the project, declared the contaminated soil a “Force Majeure Termination Event.” It means that both of the companies are denying any liability, and that the presence of contaminated soil is an “extraordinary circumstance beyond control”, meaning they cannot fulfil their obligations.
All three companies – John Holland, CPB and Transurban – are yet to determine how to resolve the contamination issue, but Ms Allan has made it clear that the Government expects them to come to a reasonable conclusion amongst themselves. As to who is responsible, Ms Allan admitted that there had “been some challenges around the removal of soil” but “the financial cost very clearly sits with Transurban”.