North East Link gets set to get boring
by Sandi Miller
23rd January 2023
MAJOR WORKS are back up and running after the summer break on the North East Link, and 2023 is shaping up to be a massive year for the major road project.
Acting Premier Jacinta Allan announced the first pieces of the enormous tunnel boring machines (TBMs) are now being built, ready to arrive later this year.
Ms Allan said the project brings many big and important benefits to Melbourne’s northern suburbs communities.
“With tunnel boring machines on the way, locals are going to see a huge amount of construction as we get ready to start tunnelling in 2024.”
She said five road headers, including some used on the Metro Tunnel, are being refurbished to dig a section of the North East Link tunnels in Bulleen.
CEO of the North East Link Authority (NELA), Duncan Elliott, explained that crews were currently building the launch site box.
“This is basically a large concrete launch site for the TBMs, and they’ll launch [from Watsonia] and have a six-and-a-half kilometre journey south to Bulleen.”
The launch box will be 40 metres deep and 200 metres long and will include more than three Olympic swimming pools worth of concrete and 1,700 tonnes of steel.
There are 379 piles that will anchor the sides of the box with steel reinforcement.
“Parts will come in later this year to assemble the TBMs, and we look to launch them in 2024,” he said.
Member for Ivanhoe Anthony Carbines said the project has been talked about for a long time.
“It is exciting to be preparing for the arrival of our TBMs — this is another important step in removing congestion from local roads.”
Away from the tunnels, Ms Allan said there’s also a range of works going on across the footprint of the North East Link project, including works at Lower Plenty Road to begin excavating tunnel ramps; realignment of Bulleen Road to make room for the new Yarra Link Green Bridge; and the major interchange connecting an upgraded Eastern Freeway to the tunnels — making sure traffic can keep safely moving on this busy road during construction.
She also highlighted the construction of Melbourne’s first dedicated busway, “which will become a big boost to bus public transport services for the northern suburbs”.
As well as the 34 kilometres of walking and cycling connections and new recreation and sporting facilities for this part of Melbourne.
“And then there’s also the Bulleen Park and Ride facility that will be completed by the middle of the year,” she said.
M&N Bulletin asked Ms Allan what support was being provided to affected businesses and institutions like Heide Art Gallery.
She said from the beginning NEL has had extensive and ongoing conversations with households, businesses, and with cultural organisations like Heide about how some of the construction disruption is impacting the local community.
“We do understand the construction of a project of this size and scale will have an impact on different parts of the local community, and will move along the corridor as work progresses.
“There’s a range of different support measures that are in place depending on whether you’re a trader, a business, or a householder, and we’ll continue to have those discussions on a one-to-one basis, tailored to what those individuals are looking for support during the delivery of the project.”
She said at the end of the project, there will be many benefits that come from getting trucks off local roads, “and we’re already seeing the additional sporting and recreational facilities that have been constructed as part of the project, and we’ll continue to have those discussions and conversations with the local community”.
Member for North-Eastern Metropolitan Region Sonja Terpstra said there is much to look forward to on North East Link this year.
“From the completion of Bulleen Park and Ride to the completion of the TBM launch box — this project is going to be a game changer for so many Melburnians.”
North East Link is a significant employer, with 2,200 workers already on the project, including 160 apprentices, trainees, and cadets, who have worked more than 143,000 hours.
Over the life of the project, North East Link will create 10,000 local jobs.
Ms Allan said the Labor Government is investing more than $20 billion in Melbourne’s northeast to improve the transport network, including North East Link, Hurstbridge Line Upgrade, Fitzsimons Lane Upgrade and removing 21 level crossings.
M&N Bulletin asked Ms Allan, considering the North East Link was set to deliver major local traffic improvements, if the works conducted at Fitzsimons Lane Project, which saw the destruction of the Eltham Gateway, were premature.
She said she did not believe that it was.
“The interface with the North East Link project was considered as part of that project [Fitzsimons Lane], but it was seen as a project that we needed to support.
“We needed to improve the ability for traffic to move in and out of the Eltham community to make sure it could be done in a safe way.
“And that project is now being delivered,” she responded.
The North East Link tunnels and freeway upgrades will be complete in 2028.
NELA forecasts travel times will be reduced by up to 35 minutes and the project will take 15,000 trucks off local roads.
The project is jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments.