Monday 12 June 2017

Why the WestConnex won’t work

Sometimes, in all my years in public office, I wish I was wrong. But when it comes to the WestConnex project, when I say it is a disaster in the making, I am not wrong. Australia’s largest road infrastructure project, announced at a cost of $10 billion, was touted as the solution to move truck freight to and from Port Botany and Sydney Airport. Now, in 2017, the road’s cost is $17 billion despite it not going within 8km of Port Botany.

In the process of construction, the Liberal Government has taken people’s homes and effectively cheated them out of the compensation to which they are entitled, has no long term plan, and is basically making the design up as they go along. All the while , the most important roads in the state, the M4 and M5, are effectively giant car parks. Their importance is to free up movements for trucks to and from Port Botany and the Airport.

This WestConnex project, which changes continually, did not meet its objective and was placed by Infrastructure Australia in the lowest priority category for funding by the Commonwealth. On the election of the Abbott Government, to try justify this project going ahead for none other than political reasons, the then Prime Minister Abbott sacked the Infrastructure Australia Board, appointed a new one which then increased the priority of the WestConnex to the highest priority to justify Commonwealth funding—a funding proposal substantially criticised by the Commonwealth Auditor General.

The original proposal to solve freight truck movements from the M4 to Port Botany dates back to 2004 where it was proposed to construct a truck tunnel, a tunnel from the M4 to Port Botany. As income from truck tolls would not pay for the construction of it, the WestConnex was born. The theory is that you put cars through a tunnel to pay for it.

The problem with that backward transport planning is, that cars go in in every direction, not just to Port Botany. That is why the WestConnex does not meet its primary objective and does not connect to the Port. The joke is by putting cars in this tunnel has resulted in a spaghetti connection at the St Peters Interchange that just moves the existing traffic congestion around.

Those who have planned a road this way will just create the next congestion point that creates a crisis, which then requires another road to be built. That crisis will take place in areas around Alexandria and Erskineville, in Gardeners Road Mascot Eastlakes Kensington and Kingsford as 61,000 vehicles have nowhere to go when they exit the St Peters Interchange. Now the RMS is planning an Alexandria to Moore Park Road as a response to that crisis. That will just move the next crisis to Anzac Parade and Alison Road, Kensington.

When those who protest in my Electorate and say expenditure should be on public transport and not on roads for cars as a solution to Sydney’s gridlock, they are correct. An efficient public transport system removes cars from the road.

The real reason road construction is preferred over public transport is that the Government uses tolls to pay for roads, whereas public transport is a Government service that the Government has to pay for. This is perhaps one of the greatest failures of public policy.

Australia’s largest infrastructure project does not meet its objective because it is unplanned, unfunded, undesigned, and where the Government can get away with saying, “this magic road will solve the problems for people in Western Sydney”. It won’t; it will create a catastrophe in this area and all of us will be the losers. As I said, I wish I was wrong.

The ABC Radio National reported in a "Background Briefing" a very good balance report on this project. It is worth a listen at