WestConnex

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WestConnex
New South Wales
WestConnex Logo.png
General information
Type Motorway  (Under construction)
Length 33 km (21 mi)
Opened 2017 (M4 Widening & King Georges Road Interchange Upgrade)
2019 (M4 East)
2020 (New M5)
2022 (M4–M5 Link Main Tunnels)
2023 (Rozelle Interchange, Iron Cove Link & Sydney Gateway)
Major junctions
North West end
South West end
Highway system

WestConnex is 33 kilometres (21 mi) of a motorway scheme currently under construction in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The scheme, a joint project of the New South Wales and Australian governments, encompasses widening and extension of the M4 Western Motorway, a new section for the M5 South Western Motorway, and a new inner western bypass of the Sydney CBD connecting the M4 and M5. Together, these projects will create around 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) of new tunnels. In addition, 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi) of the existing M4 Western Motorway will be widened and converted to a private tollway. To help fund the project, the publicly-owned M5 East Motorway will be converted to a private tollway, while the toll on the existing M5 South Western Motorway will be extended for a further 34 years.[1]

The initial M4 widening and King Georges Road Interchange Upgrades began construction in 2015 and are due for completion in 2017; The M4 East and New M5 Tunnel stages started work in mid-2016 and are due for completion in 2019 and 2020 respectively; the final stages, M4–M5 link, Iron Cove Link and Sydney Gateway are expected to begin construction in 2019 and be completed by 2023.[2]

Construction costs alone for WestConnex are estimated at A$16.8 billion.[3] Once land acquisitions,[4] network extensions development costs and the cost of operations[5] are accounted for, the total cost will be at least $20 billion and possibly more than $45 billion.[6] The State Government has announced an intention to sell at least 51% of WestConnex. UBS has estimated that the 51% stake might fetch between $2 billion and $4 billion.[7]

Described as "the biggest transport project in Sydney since the Harbour Bridge"[8] and costing "in current dollars, double the Snowy River scheme", the project has been widely criticised on economic, social and process grounds[9] and has been the subject of escalating public protest.[10] It has faced intense opposition from Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore. In June 2017, the City of Sydney announced it was considering abandoning the third part of the project.[11]

History[edit]

The first comprehensive plan for Sydney motorways, the Cumberland County Plan, was released by the then county council in 1948 and adopted in 1951 by the NSW Government. The Plan envisaged a radial motorway network centred on Sydney's central business district (CBD). Though construction of the roads progressed slowly – by 1971 only isolated sections were complete – the Plan ensured corridors were reserved, providing property owners with certainty about future infrastructure.[12]

This changed in 1976 with the election of the Australian Labor Party under Premier Neville Wran. Wran, faced with his predecessors' ambitious infrastructure plans, inner-city opposition to motorway projects (including a powerful 'Green Bans' movement) and a deteriorating financial situation, halted work on inner-city projects, scaled back the under-construction Eastern Suburbs railway line and eliminated a number of the Cumberland Plan's inner-city road reservations.

Though Wran's decision to sell off the M4 East corridor was later criticised,[13] the Cumberland Plan's radial concept was anyway beginning to lose relevance. The city's passenger and freight gateway had shifted 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) south of the CBD, with long-distance passengers increasingly arriving via Sydney Airport, not Circular Quay or Central Station; and Port Botany increasingly supplanting Sydney Harbour as the city's main shipping hub. At the same time, employment was decentralising. Retailers were clustering in new suburban shopping malls; factories were moving to less constrained greenfield sites in the outer suburbs; and many companies were moving to suburban campus-style office parks.[12]

In 1987, the then Department of Main Roads released Roads 2000, which shifted the focus of motorway planning from completing the CBD-centric radial system and addressed the growing number of cross-suburban vehicle journeys instead.[14] The Western Motorway, now known as the M4, was completed from the Blue Mountains to Concord in 1992. The South-Western motorway, known as the M5, reached from Prestons to Beverly Hills by 1995.[15]

The unfinished M5 East section of the orbital, between Beverly Hills and the airport, remained contentious. Although a surface corridor had been reserved for much of the route, the government of Bob Carr was anxious to minimise the surface impact. After last-minute revisions to the design, the resulting motorway, opened in 2001, was too steep for laden trucks returning from Port Botany, significantly increasing vehicle emissions and frequently overwhelming the ventilation system.[16] Options for the M4 East were exhibited in 2003, but the government was divided over the proposal and ultimately did not proceed with it.[17]

"First things first" strategy[edit]

Elected in 2011 on a promise to create an integrated transport strategy for the city, the Liberal-led government of Premier Barry O'Farrell established an independent advisory body, led by former premier Nick Greiner, to assess projects and determine priorities. Greiner's Infrastructure NSW (iNSW) evaluated a number of long-standing motorway proposals, including the M4 East, the F6 extension and the M2-F3 link. iNSW released its strategy, entitled First Things First, the following year. The plan identified a 33-kilometre (21 mi) motorway scheme, which it named "WestConnex", as the state's top road priority. The creation of WestConnex was one of the major points of agreement between two competing strategic transport reports, commissioned simultaneously in 2011 by the NSW Government, from iNSW and Transport for NSW.[18] O'Farrell accepted the recommendation, committing $1.8 billion to begin work.

The initial scheme called for:

  • widening of the existing M4 between Parramatta and Homebush
  • an M4 East tunnel from Concord to Haberfield
  • a new "M4 South" tunnel from Haberfield to St Peters, near Port Botany and the airport
  • widening of the existing M5 East
  • improvements to surface roads around the port and airport.[19]

The M4 South component would provide the first step towards an inner-city bypass. Transport for New South Wales, which released its long-term integrated transport plan around the same time, committed to further planning work on the northern section of the bypass. iNSW estimated the benefit-cost ratio for WestConnex at "more than 1.5", noting that the removal of freight traffic from Parramatta Road could also facilitate urban regeneration along the Inner West's main road link.[19]

Focused as it was on journeys to and from the international gateways at Botany Bay, the scheme did not include a direct connection to the CBD. This proved a stumbling block in securing federal funding for the project, despite the risk of a motorway direct to the city competing with existing public transport services.[20][21] With a change of government in 2013, the federal government's opposition was reversed.[22]

Later modifications[edit]

The scheme underwent a number of changes from the concept recommended by iNSW in 2012. In particular, the government realigned the proposed M4 South to accommodate a link to a future second harbour road tunnel, with a view to one day completing an inner-city bypass.[23] This would mean a large interchange at the site of the abandoned Rozelle Rail Yards close to the Anzac Bridge.[24] This interchange was later moved underground.[24] A tunnel under Rozelle was added to bypass the congested Victoria Road corridor and connect with the Rozelle Rail Yard interchange.[24] A large park will be built above the interchange.[24] Stub tunnels have also been added as part of Stage 2 to connect to a proposed Southern Motorway to the St George and Sutherland Shire areas.[25][26]

Objectives[edit]

The strategic objectives that the scheme was originally conceived to address have never been made public. The initial application for federal funding was made under the 'National Freight Network' category,[27] and the new tunnels converge near Sydney's main container port (Port Botany) and airport. This suggests the primary objective was to improve road freight productivity. However, smaller truck-only toll tunnels would not have been financially viable. Therefore, general use toll tunnels were proposed instead, to generate toll revenue from passenger vehicles as well.[28] This approach has been described as "suburban motorists ... paying for an inner-city freight project".[29]

A list of objectives was included in the 2015 Business Case.[30] However, the Business Case and list of objectives were written retrospectively, long after state and federal funding for the project was announced.

Infrastructure Australia has criticised the NSW Government for not adequately appraising alternative ways of meeting the project objectives.[31] For example, road freight productivity could be improved, and congestion reduced, simply by tolling the existing M4 and M5 motorways, which is being done anyway to cross-subsidise to the new tunnels.[29]

Staging[edit]

Stage 1: M4 Widening, King Georges Road Interchange and M4 East[edit]

The M4 Western Motorway outside of Parramatta. This section will be widened as part of the WestConnex scheme.

This would include widening of the present M4 from two or three to four lanes in each direction between Parramatta and Homebush Bay Drive; upgrading the existing M5 interchange at King Georges Road; and new, twin three-lane motorway tunnels between Homebush and Haberfield. The latter project, being delivered by a Leighton Samsung John Holland joint venture, will connect the M4 to the CBD via the City West Link Road, Anzac Bridge and Western Distributor. Stage 1 is expected to open to traffic in 2019 and is also linked to an urban renewal program for the Parramatta Road corridor, being managed by UrbanGrowth NSW.

Stage 2: New M5 and St Peters Interchange[edit]

Includes building the "New M5" between the M5 at Beverly Hills and St Peters. Stage 2 will be designed to allow for future connection to the Sydney–Wollongong motorway which connects to Waterfall.

In January 2016, the Wolli Creek Preservation Society raised concerns that complying offsets are unlikely to be available for the irreparable damage to the Beverly Grove bushland from the temporary use of 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres) as a construction compound. The 1.87-hectare (4.6-acre) Beverly Grove bushland was one of the larger remnant patches of the Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark ecological community (CCRIF). Further, the 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres) of critically endangered CCRIF cleared was an offset from the original M5 East.[32]

On 11 July 2016, the Second Turnbull Ministry announced the environmental approval for Stage 2 of the WestConnex motorway with a captive breeding plan and construction and maintenance of additional habitat for the green and golden bell frog and offsets for damage to the critically endangered CCRIF.[33][34]

Stage 3: M4–M5 Link, Iron Cove Link, Rozelle Interchange and Sydney Gateway[edit]

Currently in the early stages of planning, WestConnex's third and final stage is planned to be a new motorway tunnel between the M4 East at Haberfield and the "New M5" at St Peters, with direct connections to the Anzac Bridge and provision for a future Western Harbour Tunnel. A late addition, publicised in July 2016, includes a 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) tunnel from the Iron Cove Bridge to the planned interchange at the Rozelle rail yards to bypass the congested Victoria Road corridor.[24][35] Stage 3 would also form the southern section of an eventual Inner West bypass of Sydney's CBD.

This stage would also involve the construction of Sydney Gateway, a new high capacity link linking the planned New M5 and M4–M5 Link at St Peters to the northern end of Sydney Airport as well as upgrading local and arterial roads nearby. Planning on Sydney Gateway began in 2015 with major construction to begin around 2019 and be fully completed by 2023.

On 9 November a new route for the M4-M5 Link took it under Annandale and the Hunter Baillie Memorial Presbyterian Church.[36][37] On 17 November it was confirmed that the mid-tunnel point would be in "the ‘triangle area’ bordered by Parramatta Road, Pyrmont Bridge Road and Mallet Street"[38]

Benefits[edit]

The 2015 business case predicts WestConnex will deliver $22.2 billion in benefits, before deducting operating expenses.

These benefits are mostly non-cash. They are estimates of the value to users of such things as travel time saved ($12.9 billion) and increased travel time reliability ($1.47 billion) as well as reduced operating costs ($6.18 billion). All other factors are estimated to have a worth of $1.65 billion. [39]

The 2015 business case [39] estimates that building WestConnex will enable an extra 45,000 road trips per weekday by 2031. By 2031, Infrastructure Australia estimates that the population of Sydney will have grown by an extra 1.2 million people.[40]

For the purpose of calculating benefits and costs of the scheme, tolling is considered to be "a transfer payment from the user to operator", the benefit to the operator is considered to cancel out the disbenefit to the user, and as such, tolling has a "neutral effect on overall benefits and costs". [39]

Support[edit]

WestConnex has the ongoing support of the New South Wales State Government, currently led by Premier Gladys Berejiklian of the New South Wales Liberal Party and the Australian Federal Government, currently led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of the Australian Liberal Party. Both levels of government together over the past 3–4 years, have continually funded the planning and implementation of the WestConnex Scheme.

WestConnex has also received support from multiple third party organisations, such as the motoring lobby group the NRMA, which argued that it would help improve transport in Sydney's west,[41] significantly reduce travel times and complete a plan from 1947.[42] On 3 October 2012, press releases in support of the "missing motorway" were issued by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia,[43] Sydney Business Chamber,[44] and the Sydney Airport Corporation.[45]

Opposition[edit]

Protest sign accompanying public demonstration in Hyde Park, Sydney (March 2016)
Banner outside NSW Parliament protesting destruction of houses in Haberfield (September 2016)

Elements of the WestConnex scheme encountered strident opposition from a range of stakeholders, among them academics, architects, resident action groups, an industry group, local councils, a developer lobby, the Australian Labor Party and the Greens, with some strongly opposed to the project in its entirety.[46] Among the project's most high-profile opponents has been Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who commissioned a report to Council on the project. Almost 12,900 submissions were lodged with NSW Planning in response to the environmental impact statement, many highly critical of the project.[47] Marrickville Council told WestConnex it will not approve preliminary work until the project as a whole is approved,[48] but observers note that the "scope of the project ... continues to expand",[49] as does the cost.[50][51]

Public transport[edit]

The Lord Mayor's report, released a month before the 2015 election, criticised the project and recommended that a new railway line be built along the M4 Western Motorway and M4 East corridor instead, to parallel the existing Inner West Line.[52] The impact of the project on public transport continued to be a matter of concern into 2016 with "no detail on what sort of public transport will be included on the road surface"[53] and repeatedly expressed concerns that experience with motorways shows they generate traffic and increase congestion[10] and that Westconnex will similarly add to congestion, rather than relieving it.[49] The project is criticised as a "crude 1950s response to our complex 21st century transport needs".[54]

Planning and approval processes[edit]

The planning and approval process for Stage 1A of the scheme (widening the M4) was criticised by Grant Hehir, the NSW Auditor-General, for failing to abide by the Government's own assurance arrangements for major projects. While Hehir made clear it was not his intention to assess the merit or value of the project per se, he identified "a number of deficiencies in governance and independent assurance over the early stages" and made recommendations for change.[55]

In response to Hehir's recommendations, the RMS only committed to addressing them for "future more complex stages", leaving the governance arrangements for the current stages unaltered.[56][57]

The methods by which the project's value, its cost and benefits as well as the fairness of their distribution have all been challenged.[9] In particular, it is argued that the projections of the economic benefits brought by the project use modelling "...devised by highway agencies in the 1960s to justify the massive cost of urban motorways".[58] The government, although "urged" to consider the fairness of the process of compulsory acquisition for the land required for the project and act on recommendations in a legal report to improve it, decided to take "no further action".[59][60]

Environmental impacts[edit]

Green and golden bell frog, cause of criticism as a result of perceived threat to the species

The project has been criticised for its potential impact on the green and golden bell frog at Kogarah golf club.[61] Protests have been strong against the felling of mature heritage trees in preparation for "the 40-hectare spaghetti interchange - as big as Sydney Park itself".[54][62][63]

Heritage impacts[edit]

The destruction of heritage properties in Haberfield, a suburb listed in its entirety as a Conservation area, has been the subject of specific criticism, especially when the chair of the Greater Sydney Commission said she was unaware of it.[64][65] The compulsorily acquisition of residential properties in inner-city suburbs for the project, including "at least 50 listed heritage buildings"[10][66] has been the subject of much criticism and opposition on grounds of disruption, loss of heritage and unfairness of process, including the Government's decision to release only the executive summary of the project's business case.[5][67]

Secrecy[edit]

After the WestConnex Authority was closed in October 2015, the project's transfer to the Sydney Motorway Corporation was criticised on the basis that this there were then no representatives from transport agencies on the board of the new "private corporation" and also that information about the project would no longer need to be disclosed in the same way that government entities normally did.[68] A proposal in 2016 for an additional tunnel between Iron Cove Bridge and an interchange at Rozelle, required the acquisition of further residential properties. Residents whose homes were affected reportedly received letters about such acquisitions on the same day that the responsible Government Minister said final decisions on them "had yet to be made".[49] The Russell Review of the acquisition system in 2012 had not been released by 2016.[51]

Funding[edit]

Funding uses a combination of government subsidy, tolls on new tunnel sections, and tolls on some existing motorways (M4, M5 East and M5 South-West).[69] The finance was to mostly be loans from the private sector, with $2 to $3 billion worth of loans and grants from the State and Federal Governments.[70] All loans are to be repaid by privatising each section as it is completed.[5]

Tolls[edit]

The Government's tolling strategy is based on distance-based charging. Tolling on new sections of WestConnex (the M4 East, the New M5 and the M4-M5 Link) will begin as each section opens. Tolling on the existing M4 (widened section between Parramatta and Homebush) will begin in 2017.[1] Tolling on the existing M5 East will begin in 2020.[1] Tolling (by WestConnex) on the M5 South-West will begin in 2026, when the current concession was due to end.[1] Tolling will continue until 2060.[71]

Once tolling on a section starts, the charge will consist of a flagfall plus a charge per kilometre, with a maximum charge, calculated as follows.[72]

  • The Base Toll Flag Fall is set at 2012 dollars and is $1.00, including GST.
  • The Base Toll Rate is set at 2012 dollars and is $0.37 per kilometre, including GST.
  • The Base Toll Cap is set at 2012 dollars and is $7.07, including GST.

For each elapsed year between 2012 and 2040, the Theoretical Toll will increase by 4.16% or by CPI, whichever is higher. From 2041 onwards, the Theoretical Toll will increase by 4.00% or by CPI, whichever is higher.[1]

And:

  • heavy vehicles are to pay a rate three times higher than other vehicles,
  • tolls are payable each way,
  • there is no discount for drivers also using a different toll road (such as Westlink M7 or M5 South-West),
  • no toll after 2060.

The new tolls that will be charged on existing motorways will be as follows:

  • M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush): $4.21 each way, from 2017 to 2060.[73]
  • M5 East (between Beverly Hills and Mascot): $6.82 each way, from 2020 to 2060.[1]
  • M5 South-West (between Prestons and Beverly Hills): $5.75 each way, from 2026 to 2060.[1]

The tolls for the existing M4 and M5 East will be included in the WestConnex toll cap. The toll for the M5 South-West will not be included in the WestConnex toll cap, meaning the toll on the M5 (as a whole) is set to reach $13.50 in 2026.[1] The NSW Government has not committed to extending the current M5 South-West cashback scheme beyond 2026.[74]

Finance[edit]

So far, $1.5 billion has been raised from the private sector.[75]

$7.1 billion has been provided by the State and Federal governments. The Federal government has contributed a grant of $1.5 billion, and committed to a concessional loan of $2.0 billion. The NSW Government initially planned to contribute $1.8 billion. It has since increased its contribution to $3.6 billion, of which $1.8 billion is from the 'Restart NSW' infrastructure fund and $1.8 billion is from the State's Consolidated Fund.[76]

In 2013 Julia Gillard, Prime Minister at the time, offered a grant of $1.8 billion which was rejected by then Premier O'Farrell, as a "stunt",[21] because it came with three conditions[77] not reimposing tolls on the existing M4 motorway even if it were widened; a direct connection to the Sydney city centre; and a direct connection to Port Botany. In particular, not tolling existing roads was not acceptable as it would deny the project billions of dollars in toll revenue. Following a change of federal government, incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott approved a grant of $1.5 billion, followed by a loan of $2.0 billion.[78]

Costs[edit]

The estimated cost of WestConnex has not been disclosed but is around $20 billion.

As of 2015, construction costs were forecast to be $16.8 billion, not including "land acquisition, network extensions, and development costs".[26] Land acquisition costs are "set to easily exceed $1.5B". [4] The cost of network extensions to support the WestConnex has never formally been disclosed and neither has the cost of 'development costs'.[26]

In addition, there will be operating costs which have been estimated at 1.465 billion.[5]

This does not include indirect costs, such as environmental damage[citation needed] or shortfalls between prices paid for compulsory acquisitions and current market values.[79]

Analysis by the City of Sydney[6] suggests that, once network extensions are included, the total cost of WestConnex may rise beyond $45 billion.

When first proposed, WestConnex was to cost approximately $10 billion, including property acquisition and construction.[70]

Sale[edit]

Under the original financing strategy the NSW was to retain ownership of WestConnex until 2025, so as to maximise the sales price.[26]

On 12 May 2017 the NSW State Government announced its intention to sell at least 51% of Sydney Motorway Corporation, the holding company for the WestConnex project. USB estimated that the 51% stake might fetch between $2 billion and $4 billion.[7]

Audit[edit]

In May 2016, it was announced that the Federal Government decision to commit $3.5 billion to WestConnex project will be investigated by the Commonwealth auditor-general.[80] The Auditor General's report was released 14 February 2017[81]

Responsibility[edit]

The WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) was a NSW Government agency established in November 2013 to plan and manage delivery of the WestConnex motorway scheme. WDA's functions had previously been performed by a project office within Roads and Maritime Services.[82] WDA was established by the Transport Administration (General) Amendment (WestConnex Delivery Authority) Regulation 2013. Its founding chairman was businessman Tony Shepherd and its founding chief executive was Dennis Cliche. The Authority was merged into the Sydney Motorway Corporation in October 2015 with the Corporation responsible for all aspects of the project. Following the resignation of Shepherd, Peter Brecht became chair, with claims that information about the project is less available to the public since Brecht's appointment.[68]

See also[edit]

Australia road sign W5-29.svg Australian roads portal

  • East West Link, Melbourne (A similar project proposed in Melbourne, which was cancelled due to a change in government)
  • Perth Freight Link (A similar project proposed in Perth, which was cancelled due to a change in government)

References[edit]

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