A $970 million windfall from the sale of the Port of Melbourne presents an opportunity to develop and strengthen transport between Ballarat and Melbourne.
A consortium led by the Queensland Investment Corporation has purchased the site for a massive, higher than expected sum of $9.7 billion, with 10 per cent of the lease proceeds set for regional expenditure where transport is a priority.
The sale in its totality will allow the state government to fast track metropolitan projects, however, it is regional areas which desperately need significant infrastructure investment and the lease proceeds would be well spent improving connectivity through the western growth zone towards Ballarat.
This year’s state budget allocation saw a $516 million commitment to revitalise the Ballarat to Melbourne rail corridor and Committee for Ballarat chair Janet Dore said continued rail investment remains the number one priority.
Ms Dore said improving Ballarat’s connectivity to Melbourne – both on rail and road – should be paramount.
“We still are looking for full duplication to the railway,” she said.
“(But) access to Melbourne also hangs on improving the roads.”
She said completing the $5.5 billion Western Distributor project, which would create an alternative river crossing to the West Gate Bridge, would reduce chronic congestion.
“We need a second river crossing because the bridge is a big weak point,” she said.
“They’re the two big things for Ballarat.
The opening of the Caroline Springs Station next year will also place more pressure on the already overwhelmed rail line, but could strengthen the case for continued rail investment.
The state government did not respond when asked if full duplication of the Ballarat line was part of considerations when contacted by The Courier on Wednesday.
The fund will go through a budget process and be distributed based on importance and need, but it’s understood the finalised Infrastructure Victoria 30-year plan will be pivotal in establishing priority projects.
The IV plan, which was released earlier this year, mentions a number Ballarat-related projects – most notably the electrification of the rail line to Melton. The report said that electrification to Melton “has merit”, but the concept either was not “well developed enough to undertake a full assessment, or (was) sufficiently developed but (has) not yet been assessed against this need”.
The plan also poured cold water over train services between Ballarat and Geelong, which is a popular idea given the existing rail line between the two cities.
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Melanie Robertson echoed Ms Dore’s sentiments about the need for more rail investment, but also said Ballarat to Geelong trains wouldn’t be in the “top five” needs for the region.
She also highlighted a need for more agricultural support, with the Port of Melbourne lease to create a $200 million agricultural fund to create jobs and boost exports.
“Ballarat is being touted as the capital of western Victoria (and) we need to add value to our agricultural sector,” she said.
“Agriculture in rural areas has to be strong for Ballarat to be strong.”
Meanwhile, City of Ballarat city services general manager Terry Demeo said funding would boost the prospects of the Ballarat West Employment Zone.
Key projects outlined by council include the an intermodal freight hub to service the BWEZ, which would cost $25 million, as well as planning and construction of the second stage of the Ballarat Link Road ($125 million), to alleviate pressure on the city’s western road network.
“We genuinely believe they would sit comfortably within the general criteria that the state has put out,” Mr Demeo said.