Not only is the controversial WestConnex system of motorways and tunnels a social and environmental disaster, the tolls set to be charged by the NSW Coalition government will rip off ordinary motorists on behalf of the giant private roadway companies.
The latest revelation is that the M5 motorway could be tolled for 40 years after 2026, when the existing toll was due to end.
In a NSW parliamentary budget estimates hearing on September 5, Minister for WestConnex Stuart Ayres was also forced to defend the decision to place a toll for the first time on the M5 East motorway, when the M5 duplication is built.
There are now serious concerns that yet another toll road could be looming, with reports the building company Lendlease has lodged an unsolicited proposal to build the Sydney Gateway, linking the WestConnex St Peters Interchange in the Inner West to Sydney Airport and Port Botany.
Rhea Liebman from the WestConnex Action Group said having a private company build and run Sydney Gateway would lead to another toll on top of WestConnex. "It certainly means a separate toll road. This is [just] another way to charge more," she said.
"The original justification for WestConnex was to build a quick access to Sydney Airport and Port Botany. The whole project has been shrouded in secrecy, with residents not knowing what is coming next."
Even the management of privately owned NSW Ports has warned that the government’s plan to impose a double toll on the road linking WestConnex to the Port of Botany could undermine a key rationale of the project. NSW Ports CEO Marika Calfas said the fees the government charged for the truck routes to the port should take into account the charges for WestConnex.
In response to a question by NSW Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi on September 6, Ayres revealed that the government had paid the Sydney Motorway Corporation $15 million for the four-week toll-free period on the widened M4 motorway.
"It's unbelievable that the government has paid a private corporation $15 million," Faruqi said. "The premier gets to look magnanimous, while at the same time handing over $15 million of public money to a private corporation. It's the public who lose out in the end; they pay tolls and then pay again, without even knowing."
Meanwhile, residents of Western Sydney are organising to oppose WestConnex and the huge tolls they are now being forced to pay.
[A rally has been called in Penrith on September 18 at 12 pm outside the Joan Sutherland Centre, 597 High Street, Penrith, before marching to Stuart Ayres' electoral office.]