Toll roads expand, but no public transport plan

Part of the lantern procession against WestConnex on July 22.
July 29, 2017

A toll road spiderweb is spreading across Sydney, with the cost of vehicle journeys set to rise substantially in coming years.

"The full WestConnex motorway will already cost about $11 a trip when it opens in 2023,” Jacob Saulwick wrote in Fairfax Media. “A few years after that, WestConnex will be connected to motorways to the northern beaches and potentially to the south. Using the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link, a return drive from Parramatta to Manly might not return change from $40."

These toll roads are not integrated with other transport options. No busses will run along any of the tollways and detailed plans for a light rail line along Parramatta Road linking Sydney's central business district to Burwood have been quietly shelved.

The project, estimated to cost up to $2.7 billion, was to have included about 15 stops along Parramatta Road in a trip estimated to take about 22 minutes, compared with a 39-minute bus journey along the same route, and assumed a tram running every four minutes in peak periods.

The light rail line would have delivered multiple benefits for Sydney's inner west, including an overall improvement in traffic conditions as more commuters shifted to the light rail line. The light rail project would also help to take pressure off the already over-loaded transport network. The inner west heavy rail line, bus network and the existing inner west light rail line have reached capacity and will be unable to cope with the extra 220,000 people expected to live along the Parramatta Road corridor in the next 15 years.

The government is taking a big political risk by imposing new tolls on currently free roadways. Soon motorists will have to pay tolls in both directions on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Harbour Tunnel under state government plans to cover the $14 billion cost of a 14-kilometre tunnel linking the Northern Beaches to the Inner West.

Leaked documents from state cabinet show transport authorities arguing the new tolls are necessary to avoid free northbound trips "undermining the case" for a third harbour crossing. "A free alternative would discourage motorists from paying tolls on the Western Harbour Tunnel," the report notes.

A similar danger for the government is posed by the looming introduction of tolls on the newly widened M4 Motorway to Parramatta. The twin evils of imposing new tollways like WestConnex and NorthConnex, and slugging motorists with tolls on previously free roads, could be an explosive issue for the government leading up to the next NSW election due in 2019.

Meanwhile, another confidential document exposed by the ABC shows estimates of the cost of the proposed F6 freeway extension through southern Sydney to Wollongong price the road at around $18 billion, $1 billion more than the current official estimate of WestConnex.

NSW Greens transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi called the F6's price tag "peak toll road madness". "$18 billion of taxpayers' money for yet another toll road, potentially through [the Royal] National Park is just obscene," she said.

The F6 leak follows revelations about the cost of an upgraded rail link between Sydney and Wollongong. Transport authorities costed the South Coast line upgrade, including a tunnel from Thirroul to Waterfall, at $3.6 billion. It would cut 24 minutes from the trip for one-fifth of the cost of the F6 upgrade.

"The NSW government is apparently ready to spend $18 billion on the F6 extension; that's half a billion dollars per kilometre, but is crying poor over public transport upgrades like the Thirroul tunnel that would slash the time people spend commuting to Sydney and at a fraction of the cost," Faruqi said.

"This is all history repeating itself. Just like WestConnex, there is no full business case, no public cost-benefit analysis and no real consideration of alternatives. This is further confirmation that the road toll lobby dictates the transport agenda in this state."

Meanwhile, the community campaign against WestConnex is stepping up, with a Lantern Procession Against WestConnex along the inner-western route of the tollway on July 22 and multiple petitions being circulated by anti-WestConnex groups drawing attention to the environmental and social damage resulting from WestConnex.

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