WestConnex business case exposes sham tollway

At the People's Climate march. Photo: @BernadetteMF

The fight to stop WestConnex intensified in November with the release — finally — of the motorway's Strategic Business Case.

Four months after roads minister Duncan Gay's promised release date, a heavily redacted Strategic Business Case for WestConnex was released. This was testament to the ongoing pressure of campaigners.

The Business Case revealed a massive cost blowout with WestConnex now predicted to cost $16.8 billion and rising. Tolls on the M5 will be $6 each way and will rise faster than the Consumer Price Index. This will inevitably lead motorists to return to local free roads, worsening congestion in contrast to the supposed justification for the project.

New interchanges announced in Rozelle, at Camperdown next to Royal Prince Alfred hospital, and road widenings in Alexandria have many residents alarmed.

But crucial financial data are still hidden from public view. The stories of misleading traffic data leading to huge losses in similar Brisbane tollroad projects, with eventual fire sales to the likes of Transurban, are disturbing.

On the bright side, the M4 East Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process was successfully repurposed via the "People's M4 East EIS" website — m4eis.org — as a way of gathering stories and critical data about the project. Many personal stories emerged as well as more technical objections from local councils.

The new M5 EIS is open for comment until the end of January, which will help the ever-mounting case against the tollway.

As so often happens, the government used the cover of Melbourne Cup Day to bury a story about ever-increasing tolls lasting for 43 years to be put on roads that had previously been free. Nevertheless, this damaging story played out on prime time news with vox popped motorists in shock that they were set to lose a public road to private operators.

The backdrop of these events is forced council amalgamations, extreme Urban Growth overdevelopment proposals and the passing of the Greater Sydney Commission legislation with the help of Labor, which will reduce the power of local communities to have a say in development.

WestConnex moved further into the shadows with the transfer of the project to the Sydney Motorway Corporation, which will shield the project from the usual freedom of information requests. Campaigners are considering possible legal challenges in this area.

On November 19, the 10,000 signature-initiated debate was held in parliament, accompanied by a protest outside. Both Baird and opposition leader Luke Foley showed their disdain for the people's voice by not even attending. The Greens' Jenny Leong presented the petition and spoke powerfully, along with Jamie Parker and Labor's McKay and Jo Haylen.

The Liberals continued their usual misinformation about the project being a great “congestion buster” for Sydney, despite the claim contradicting much of their own data and more than 40 years of international experience of the traffic-inducing effects of urban motorways.

Many groups and individuals continue to bring their unique strengths to the campaign. NoW PT, who led a contingent at the People's Climate March, has led the push in highlighting public transport alternatives and linking WestConnex to excessive fossil fuel use and global warming.

WestConnex Action Group will host UPROOTED on Sunday December 6. These family picnic and tree wrapping events will highlight all that will be lost in three locations simultaneously — Sydney Park, Haberfield and Kingsgrove.

For more information visit WestConnex Action Group.]

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