Felicia Mariani, chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, said January was the best time for maintenance outages from a business perspective.
“There’s never a right time,” Mariani said.
The confirmation of the shutdown follows Tuesday’s state budget, which was criticized for failing to support the CBD’s recovery.
Last year the government provided $107 million to rejuvenate the city center through programs such as the Melbourne Money Scheme, but no new money was set aside in the latest budget.
Ghost public transport spokeswoman Steph Ryan said the COVID-19 lockdowns were a missed opportunity to fix the city loop when public transport ridership was low.
“This work should have been prioritized over COVID when the city was on lockdown,” she said. “Now CBD is facing massive disruption at a time when it has still not recovered from lockdowns.”
The former contractor collapsed in 2018 and left scaffolding around parts of Parliament and Flagstaff stations, adding business and legal costs.
Asked why the work had not been done earlier in the pandemic, the Level Crossing Removal Project, which is managing the project on behalf of the Department of Transportation, said last year that the collapse of the contract was a slow process involving creditors and debtors.
The new construction consortium – Acciona, Coleman Rail, WSP and Metro Trains Melbourne – will upgrade smoke detection and extraction systems and sprinklers at Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament stations, and complete the work by end of 2023.
Fire detection, hydrants, CCTV and intrusion detection systems have already been upgraded.
About 105,000 people entered the three stations each weekday before the pandemic.
Tuesday’s state budget listed the entire project at $468.94 million, 10 times what was originally announced.
A government spokeswoman said the City Loop needed maintenance and improvements like all infrastructure.
“Although the loop is currently safe, the second stage of major improvements will ensure that it remains world-class and continues to meet the needs of the city’s growing rail network.”
The Metro Tunnel will also serve the CBD when it opens in late 2025.
The Liberal state government, which only admitted to safety concerns after a 2012 ombudsman investigation criticized the Department for Transport for failing to act, allocated 43 million dollars to the City Loop security upgrade in 2014.
Last year, Victoria’s Auditor General’s office valued the whole project at $382 million, a figure that has since risen to $468.94 million.
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