WestConnex

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WestConnex
New South Wales
WestConnex Logo.png
General information
Type Motorway  (Under construction)
Length 33 km (21 mi)
Opened 2023 (expected)
Major junctions
West end
East end
Highway system
Highways in Australia
National HighwayFreeways in Australia
Highways in New South Wales

WestConnex is a motorway scheme currently in the early stages of construction in Sydney, 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 bypass of the Sydney CBD connecting the M4 and M5. Together, these projects would build or upgrade some 33 kilometres to the Sydney motorway network. The total cost of WestConnex is estimated at $16.8 billion;[1] the final stage, the M4–M5 link, is expected to be completed by 2023.[2] Described as "the biggest transport project in Sydney since the Harbour Bridge" and costing "in current dollars, double the Snowy River scheme", the project has been widely criticised on economic, social and process grounds[3] and has been the subject of escalating public protest.[4]

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.[5]

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,[6] the Cumberland Plan's radial concept was anyway beginning to lose relevance. The city's passenger and freight gateway had shifted 14 kilometres 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.[5]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] Options for the M4 East were exhibited in 2003, but the government was divided over the proposal and ultimately did not proceed with it.[10]

"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 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[12]

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.[13][14] With a change of government in 2013, the federal government's opposition was reversed.[15]

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.[16] This would mean a large interchange at the site of the abandoned Rozelle Rail Yards close to the Anzac Bridge.[17] This interchange was later moved underground.[17] A tunnel under Rozelle was added to bypass the congested Victoria Road corridor and connect with the Rozelle Rail Yard interchange.[17] A large park will be built above the interchange.[17] 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.[18][19]

Staging[edit]

Stage 1: M4 Widening and M4 East[edit]

Main article: M4 Western Motorway

This would include widening of the present M4 from two or three to four lanes in each direction between Parramatta and Homebush Bay Drive; 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: King Georges Road interchange and New M5[edit]

Main article: New M5

Includes upgrading the existing M5 interchange at King Georges Road and 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.

Stage 3: M4–M5 Link[edit]

Currently in the early stages of planning, WestConnex's third and final stage would 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.[17][20] Stage 3 would also form the southern section of an eventual Inner West bypass.

Support[edit]

WestConnex received support from third party organisations, such as the motoring lobby group the NRMA, which argued that it would help improve transport in Sydney's west[23] and complete a plan from 1947.[24] On 3 October 2012, press releases in support of the "missing motorway" were issued by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia,[25] Sydney Business Chamber[26] and the Sydney Airport Corporation.[27]

Criticism[edit]

Protest sign accompanying public demonstration in Hyde Park, Sydney (March 2016)

Elements of the WestConnex scheme encountered strident opposition from a range of stakeholders, among them academics, resident action groups, local councils, the Australian Labor Party and the Greens, with some strongly opposed to the project in its entirety. 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.[21] Marrickville Council told WestConnex it will not approve preliminary work until the project as a whole is approved.[22]

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.[23] 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"[24] and repeatedly expressed concerns that experience with motorways shows they generate traffic and increase congestion.[4]

Planning and approval processes[edit]

The planning and approval process for Stage 1A of the scheme (widening the M4) was criticised by the state Auditor-General, Grant Hehir, 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 which were "largely accepted" by the Government.[25][26][27] The methods by which the project's value, its cost and benefits as well as the fairness of their distribution have all been challenged.[3] 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".[28]

Local impacts[edit]

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

The project has also been criticised for its potential impact on the green and golden bell frog at Kogarah golf club;[29] the need to compulsorily acquire residential properties in inner-city suburbs, including "at least 50 listed heritage buildings";[4][30] and the Government's decision to release only the executive summary of the project's business case.[31][32]

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.[33]

Funding[edit]

The business case for WestConnex is predicated on "a high proportion of the funding requirement" being "sourced from user charges." The NSW Government's contribution of $1.8 billion over four years and the Australian Government's contribution of $1.5 billion over four years would be supplemented by capital raising against future toll revenue. The Government's tolling strategy is based on distance-based charging, minimum and maximum charges, and different rates for cars and trucks.[31] An earlier offer of $1.8 billion in funding came from the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, contingent on there being no tolls, was rejected at the time as a "stunt" by the NSW Government as it would cost the project billions of dollars in lost toll revenue.[13][14]

The tolling strategy means that the existing Parramatta–Concord section of the M4 will become tolled once again when widening is complete. It is also possible that tolls on WestConnex roads will increase at a higher rate than tolls on the Westlink M7.[34]

For stage one of the project, the private operator will be able to charge a toll from 2017 until 2060.[35]

Responsibility[edit]

The WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) was a Government agency of the State of New South Wales in Australia, 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.[36] 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 is Dennis Cliche.

The Authority was merged into the Sydney Motorway Corporation in October 2015. The Corporation became responsible for all aspects of the project. Chaired by Peter Brecht after the resignation of Tony Shepherd, one effect of the change is that information about the project is less available to the public.[33]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ O'Sullivan, Matt; Saulwick, Jacob (20 November 2015). "WestConnex motorway cost blows out by $1.4 billion". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 July 2016. 
  2. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (14 March 2015). "What you need to know about WestConnex, the biggest road we've ever seen". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Standen, Chris (1 December 2015). "The way we justify investments in road projects like WestConnex doesn't add up". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Farrelly, Elizabeth (27 April 2016). "WestConnex is a war on inner Sydney and city dwellers". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Forster, Clive (1999). Australian cities: continuity and change. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. 
  6. ^ Clennell, Andrew (23 February 2012). "Future stuck in a political jam". The Daily Telegraph. 
  7. ^ Infrastructure New South Wales (2012). "WestConnex – Sydney's next motorway project" (PDF). 
  8. ^ Metroad 5 Sydney to Campbelltown
  9. ^ Roads and Maritime Services (2014). "Technical paper 9: evolution of road tunnels in Sydney" (PDF). 
  10. ^ Goodsir, Darren (18 June 2004). "Carr's rivals fume in clash over M4 East". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  11. ^ Shakibaei, Bambul (10 October 2012). "Transport for NSW vs Infrastructure NSW". Transport Sydney. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Infrastructure New South Wales (2012). "First things first: the state infrastructure strategy 2012–2032" (PDF). 
  13. ^ a b "WestConnex funding promise erupts into political row". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 12 May 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Needham, Kristy (12 May 2013). "'What a stunt': NSW Treasurer slams Gillard government on West Connex road plan". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Coultan, Mark (19 September 2013). "Tony Abbott launches $11bn WestConnex motorway". The Australian. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  16. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (21 November 2014). "Revealed: Second Sydney Harbor road tunnel". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 July 2016. 
  17. ^ a b c d e Saulwick, Jacob (21 July 2016). "New tunnel under Victoria Road added to WestConnex at no extra cost, government says". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 25 July 2016. 
  18. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (3 September 2015). "Multimillion-dollar compensation brawl brews over WestConnex St Peters interchange". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 July 2016. 
  19. ^ "WestConnex – Updated Strategic Business Case" (PDF). Sydney Motorway Corporation. November 2015. ISBN 978-1-925421-39-2. Retrieved 26 July 2016. 
  20. ^ Gerathy, Sarah (21 July 2016). "WestConnex interchange plans unveiled; Government to buy 27 properties on Victoria Road". ABC News. Retrieved 25 July 2016. 
  21. ^ O'Sullivan, Matt (23 March 2016). "Sydney residents vent opposition to WestConnex in flood of submissions". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  22. ^ O'Sullivan, Matt (7 April 2016). "Opposition to WestConnex grows as council blocks contractors from streets". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 April 2016. 
  23. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (23 February 2015). "WestConnex: the wrong project for Sydney, report says – 'invest in public transport instead'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 March 2015. 
  24. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (13 February 2016). "WestConnex: Fewer lanes for motorists on Parramatta Road, more for public transport". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 20 February 2016. 
  25. ^ Hehir, Grant (18 December 2014). "WestConnex assurance to the Government: Auditor-General's Report to Parliament". 
  26. ^ Duncan, Peter (12 December 2014). "Performance audit: WestConnex – assurance to the Government" (PDF). 
  27. ^ "Baird government's dismissal of Hehir report alarming". The Sydney Morning Herald. 12 January 2015. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  28. ^ Standen, Chris (2015-12-01). "The way we justify investments in road projects like WestConnex doesn't add up". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2015-12-07. 
  29. ^ Hawke, Sarah (31 July 2015). "Fears Sydney WestConnex road project will destroy habitat for vulnerable green and golden bell frog". ABC News. 
  30. ^ Gainsford, Jim (25 January 2015). "WestConnex letters anger St Peters residents". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  31. ^ a b "WestConnex business case executive summary" (PDF). 
  32. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (17 December 2014). "Victorian example sparks fresh calls to release WestConnex business case". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  33. ^ a b Saulwick, Jacob (16 October 2015). "WestConnex shielded from scrutiny after control handed to private corporation". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  34. ^ Saulwick, Jacob (9 May 2015). "WestConnex: New Sydney motorway to push toll to $11 per trip". Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  35. ^ O’Rourke, Jim (3 November 2015). "WestConnex motorway: Drivers facing 43 years of M4 tolls". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 April 2016. 
  36. ^ "WestConnex Delivery Authority established". Roads and Maritime Services. 2013-10-31. Retrieved 4 August 2015. 

External links[edit]