Sydney set to be ‘toll road capital of the world’

Protesting drilling in Camperdown. Photo: Pip Hinman

“The revelation that Sydney is set to become the ‘toll road capital of the world’ shows the madness,” said Pip Hinman, Socialist Alliance candidate for Stanmore ward in the September Inner West Council elections.

“The disastrous $17 billion WestConnex tollway is just the latest in a string of tollroads around the city, and should be halted immediately,” she told Green Left Weekly on July 15

“Privatised tollroads are a cash cow for the big road corporations. They are a means of ripping off ordinary motorists, when we should be encouraging commuters to move towards public transport.

“In place of WestConnex and the other planned tollroads around Sydney, the state and federal governments should be investing massively in new rail and bus projects to improve public transport, in our inner suburbs and out west,” she said.

Hinman was commenting on a report in the Daily Telegraph that Sydney will have more toll roads than any city in the world by 2023 and some drivers will spend more than $8000 on tolls a year just to get to work.

Sydney’s toll roads include the M5 from Prestons to Beverly Hills, M2 from Seven Hills to Epping and the Westlink M7. Six more toll roads are due for completion in the next five years are expected to open by 2023.

Other future projects likely to be tolled include the M9 Orbital and M12 in the west, the F6 in the south, the Northern Beaches Link and the Western Harbour Tunnel.

If these are all built, Sydney would have 15 toll roads, more than the total number of tollways in Britain.

Even NSW transport minister Andrew Constance questioned whether NSW should be building “four and five-lane motorways today, when automation could completely change the thinking”.

“This is bizarre,” Hinman said. “The NSW Coalition transport minister himself is querying the need for more tollways, at the same time as the government is rushing ahead with WestConnex and other expensive, and socially and environmentally detrimental, road projects.

“WestConnex should be stopped at once. The community should be widely consulted about alternative plans for public transport in place of any further tollroad madness,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Labor opposition has released details of a series of damaging state cabinet leaks highlighting the escalating cost blow-outs affecting WestConnex. On July 3, Opposition Leader Luke Foley released documents showing the companies contracted to build WestConnex had made compensation claims worth $1 billion, largely for problems with contamination or planning approvals.

Labor then leaked another section of the document revealing the lack of final planning for the crucial link between WestConnex and Sydney Airport. Known as the Sydney Gateway, this link was the original justification for WestConnex.

Foley released cabinet documents showing that the government had decided against increasing toll prices on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and harbour tunnel in line with rises in the CPI. The opposition was able to contrast this with the government’s earlier announced plans to slug western suburban motorists with new tolls on the widened M4 motorway which will rise faster than the CPI, at 4%.

In a further dubious move that will add to the exploding cost of WestConnex, the government proceeded with an extension of the lease on a site at Darley Road, Leichhardt, despite an earlier probity report recommending against an extension. The site, currently occupied by a Dan Murphy’s liquor store, is proposed as a drilling area for the WestConnex tunnel.

The lease was due to expire in 2018, but in 2012 was extended to 2038. The lessee, and Dan Murphy’s, will now be paid a tidy sum in compensation, raising questions about the corrupt dealings between big business and this government.

As public concerns about WestConnex begin to mount, the community campaign of opposition is reaching further into the neighbourhoods.

[A Lantern Procession, organised by a coalition of residents’ groups against WestConnex along the route of Stage 3, with starting points from Ashfield to Rozelle, will be organised on July 22. The processions will converge on Camperdown Oval for a free barbeque at 6.30pm.]

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