NRMA election ‘a referendum on WestConnex’

Peter Hehir.

The upcoming NRMA election of directors is shaping up to be a referendum on the WestConnex tollroad, according to Peter Hehir, one of the two candidates contesting the Harbour Region.

A retired construction manager, film actor and anti-tollroad activist, Hehir is standing against current Harbour Region director and NRMA chairperson Tim Trumper.

The region extends from the Northern Beaches to Botany Bay, encompassing many of the suburbs most negatively impacted by WestConnex. It also includes areas that will be affected by the yet-to-be-approved Western Harbour and Northern Beaches tollroads.

The 315,000 NRMA members who reside in the region will be sent election material in coming weeks and voting will be from September 23 to October 28.

All current financial members of the NRMA are eligible to vote.

Trumper is on record as saying in the May-June 2019 edition of NRMA’s Open Road magazine: “I’m pleased to say transport infrastructure projects like WestConnex, NorthConnex and the Sydney Metro Northwest Project will all come onto the network in the coming years, representing an important change in Sydney’s transport.

“The NSW Government has also committed to progressing the Northern Beaches Link, which is a vital piece of infrastructure that will improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders.”

Hehir, who is also the convenor of the 850-member Rozelle Against WestConnex group and editor of its newspaper Bottleneck!, believes that tollroads like WestConnex are not the solution to Sydney’s traffic congestion.

He argues that public transport - especially rail, with 12 times the capacity of road - is the only solution capable of efficiently moving the city's workers during peak periods.

Hehir told Green Left Weekly: “New roads have never provided a solution to congestion, nor can they, because of induced demand. This is a phenomenon where new roads, regardless of the number of lanes, generate new traffic and within a very short period become choked, making the situation as bad as or worse than before.

“Freeways, especially radial freeways, those that have the CBD at or near their hub, have never worked for long wherever they have been tried — not anywhere in the world.

“Many of these freeways have subsequently been torn down.”

Hehir’s other concerns are the cost — estimated by SGS Economics & Planning to be $45 billion — along with the ever-increasing tolls and concentration and release of carcinogenic vehicle exhaust.

He cites figures from the 2.2 kilometre M5 East tunnel, provided by the state government’s Roads and Maritime Services, suggesting that more than 300 tonnes of toxic material will be released annually just from the four unfiltered exhaust stacks in Rozelle.

“I struggle to see how this will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders”, said Hehir, “especially those who pay to breathe the toxic air in the tunnels or live anywhere near the fallout plume from the stacks”.

The business case for WestConnex has also been questioned. Evidence given at the Parliamentary Inquiry into WestConnex suggests that the costs had been understated and the benefits overstated.

In Sydney, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the Cross City Tunnel went broke when real toll revenue failed to match forecast revenue. The Cross City Tunnel has been in receivership twice.

The Sydney Harbour Tunnel has cost NSW taxpayers more than $1 billion since the tunnel began operation. These monies have been paid by the government to the operators because usage fell well short of projected figures.

In her evidence to the WestConnex inquiry, UTS transport planner Dr Michelle Zeibots predicted that WestConnex Stage 3 would “achieve an outcome similar to that experienced by the Cross City Tunnel”.

Zeibots became well known for correctly predicting the failure of the Cross City Tunnel in 2002, a year before construction began.

Her submission provides evidence that public transport speeds are what ultimately determine road speeds and that projects such as WestConnex fail to improve congestion in the long term.

Hehir said he is keen to ensure that the NRMA election offers members a clear alternative in relation to tollroads.

That will be difficult, however, given that the NRMA have imposed restrictions on candidates that preclude any mention of “policy, objectives or intentions” in the candidate’s published statements.

Tim Trumper was approached for comment, but no reply was received by the deadline.

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