“We believe it is possible at this point to deliver the job by 2022, but the schedule is under pressure. But we are two years in a five-year build at this point in time.
“Like all large complex infrastructure projects, there are challenges. But we’ll continue to work with all the project parties and our stakeholders and EPA Victoria, in particular, to finalise plans for tunnelling activities.”
The Andrews government says it expects Transurban to meet the original deadline.
“The government has a contract with Transurban to deliver the project by 2022 and we will be holding them to that contract,” a government spokeswoman said.
It comes as the project’s builders, John Holland and CPB Contractors have announced they want to ditch the toll road, alleging the amount of soil contaminated with PFAS – a group of potentially carcinogenic chemicals – was underestimated when they signed the project’s $5 billion construction contract.
Tunnelling on the road is believed to be delayed by a year, amid a deadlock between the builders, Transurban and the government over how to treat the PFAS-contaminated soil and where to dump it.
Almost 140 tunnelling workers were retrenched last month because of the impasse and the project’s two tunnel-boring machines are sitting idle underground.
Mr Charlton told financial analysts that the project partners were yet to find a technical solution to the soil issue. No site capable of receiving the contaminated soil in the quantities and speed required has been identified, he said.
He said Transurban was hopeful of finding a suitable site in “the next few months”.
The project’s builders are still waiting for the Victorian Environment Protection Authority to classify the PFAS soil – a process that determines the level of contamination and how it should be treated and dumped.
The builders had no clear plan for the disposal of 2.3 million tonnes of soil removed from the construction site even as tunnelling was due to begin.
Despite the considerable challenges facing the project, the Andrews government has consistently stated it expects Transurban and the builders to stick to the terms of their contract and the 2022 completion date – the year of the next state election.
The West Gate Tunnel is a toll road linking the West Gate Freeway in Spotswood and CityLink in Docklands.
More to come.
Timna Jacks is Transport Reporter at The Age
Business reporter at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.