Australian toll road operator Transurban is suing the JV between Transfield Construction and Obayashi Corp responsible for building the US$388M Burnley road tunnel in Melbourne, claiming the walls were not built to specification.

Documents filed by Transurban at the Supreme Court in Victoria State said that a survey in 2006 concluded the JV failed to properly design or construct the tunnel and that the walls are too thin.

The writ filed by Transurban says: “The tunnel thickness issue will severely compromise the ability of the structure to achieve its design life.”

Transurban, through its Citylink subsidiary, has a franchise to operate the 3.5km long tunnel until 2034. Afterward, the tunnel passes into state government control but the concession agreement requires it to last another 66 years.

The company commented that the problem with the tunnel walls was a legal matter and potential insurance issue in the future but not a safety issue. It added that fixing any future problem was not the principal concern but rather establishing who would pay. The writ was issued to the JV on notice that Transurban may go to court, it said. Under the construction contract, there is a time limit on issuing writs.

Construction of the tunnel, which began in 1996 and it opened at the end of 2001 – a year late, runs under the Yarra river and links the West Gate and Monash freeways in Melbourne. It opened 12 months late because of cracks in the walls that had to be repaired. Transurban settled out of court.

The tunnel, though, has required repairs since it opened. In 2004, repairs were carried out involving installation of steel plates and rock anchors.