EastLink is electronically tolled with no cash booths, using a system developed by SICE. The SICE Tolling System is similar to (and interoperable with) the e-TAG system used on the CityLink tollway. EastLink was opened to traffic on Sunday 29 June 2008 and in conjunction with the opening, a month long toll-free period occurred before regular tolling commenced on 27 July 2008.
The project was constructed by a joint venture of Australian construction companies Thiess and John Holland, with tolling system contracted to SICE, and mechanical and electrical work contracted to United Group Infrastructure. The final project cost was A$2.5 billion.
Signs at the entrances and on the tollway direct to Ringwood, Dandenong, Frankston and Doncaster.
The road was originally shown in the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan as the F35 Freeway.
The motorway has been a contentious issue, amid concerns over environmental damage and the possibility it would lead to a 'complete' metropolitan ring road. In October 1999 the Bracks Government announced that the motorway (which Labor had not promised at the election) had been scrapped. Instead the government promised to investigate a preferred route for the Rowville railway line and extend the 75 tram to Knox, of which neither have been fulfilled. However, in 'major policy about-face' the Bracks Government announced in August 2000 that they would seek federal funding for the motorway. To obtain funding the motorway would need to be classified as a road of 'national importance', despite the fact that it did not form part of the national highway grid. The 'U-turn' on the motorway was strongly criticised by opponents such as the Public Transport Users Association as it would result in public transport alternatives such as the Rowville railway line being scrapped.
In 2001, University of Melbourne academic Paul Mees launched legal action in the Federal Court seeking an injunction under section 475 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to prevent Transport Minister Peter Batchelor and the Roads Corporation (VicRoads) from "taking any further action relating to the construction of the Scoresby freeway or the Eastern Ring Road". He alleged that the motorway would threaten migratory birds, plant species and wetlands and that the motorway was part of a larger plan to build a metropolitan ring road to Greensborough. In light of the court case, state government bureaucrats removed references to the metropolitan ring road from a draft Metropolitan Strategy.
In 2003, the Southern and Eastern Integrated Transport Authority (SEITA) was established by the Victorian Government, to manage and oversee the project on behalf of the government. SEITA was responsible for managing the process of selecting a private sector bidder.
In October 2004, SEITA awarded the contract for the design, construction, and operation of EastLink to ConnectEast, a company that was publicly listed on the ASX in November 2004. ConnectEast subsequently contracted Thiess John Holland, a group formed by the partnership of two major construction companies, to carry out the detailed design and construction of EastLink.
ConnectEast, as owner of the road, is now responsible for its day-to-day management, until the concession deed expires in [(a period of 39 years). EastLink's construction began in March 2005, and the road opened on 29 June 2008
On 27 February 2008, it was announced that the EastLink / Monash Freeway interchange would be named the "Tom Wills Interchange", after the founder of Australian rules football Tom Wills. On 24 March 2008 Tim Pallas announced that the twin tunnels would be named 'Melba' and 'Mullum Mullum', in the inbound and outbound direction, respectively.
The opening of the road on 29 June 2008 saw traffic on nearby Stud, Springvale and Blackburn Roads drop by 30% to 40%, but traffic on the an Eastern Freeway rose by 5 per cent at the Burke Road intersection, and by about 1-2 per cent at Hoddle Street in the city. On average 270,868 cars, trucks and motorbikes travelled on the road every day until the tolling was introduced on 23 July. In the first week after the introduction of tolls, the average number of daily trips fell to 133,722. This was in line with estimates of a 40 to 50 per cent decline, but is a third below prospectus forecasts. The average toll per trip was $3.10 - above the estimates of $2.91.
In its first six months of operation, Eastlink made a loss of almost $93 million. In 2010 the road had to be refinanced with its traffic forecasts rewritten due to lower than expected traffic volumes.
Over the years the project was variously referred to as the Eastern Ring Road, Scoresby Freeway, Scoresby Bypass, and Mitcham-Frankston Freeway.
On 23 March 2005, with the beginning of construction on the project, then Premier Steve Bracks announced that the road would be called EastLink, at a ceremony in Rowville. The new name was reportedly chosen because it is easier to say and apparently easier to remember and fit on the street directories.
On 27 February 2008, it was announced that the EastLink / Monash Freeway interchange would be named the "Tom Wills Interchange", after the founder of Australian rules football Tom Wills.
On 24 March 2008 Tim Pallas announced that the twin tunnels would be named 'Melba' and 'Mullum Mullum', in the inbound and outbound direction, respectively.