WestCONnex delivers traffic chaos and resident outrage as Rozelle Interchange opens

December 14, 2023
Cartoon: Susan Dorothea White

Hundreds of angry residents at a December 7 meeting at Balmain Town Hall expressed their fury at the traffic gridlock and chaos in the suburbs of Rozelle, Annandale and Balmain just days after WestConnex’s $3.9 billion Rozelle Interchange opened.

Kobi Shetty, Greens MLA for Balmain, received huge applause when she pointed to the elephant in the room: the systematic prioritisation of collecting more tolls over transport needs.

“The government should look at their contracts with WestConnex to see if they can do anything to change that prioritisation,” she said.

Shetty said Labor needs to deliver more public transport alternatives, including extra ferry services from Balmain West and Annandale.

John Holland, the corporation contracted to build the Rozelle Interchange, boasts that it is “one of the most complex underground motorways ever undertaken”.

It consists of 23 kilometres of tunnel, four cut and cover tunnel portal structures and 12 bridges. Three exhaust stacks, bizarrely decorated with a post-industrial-style facade, spew tonnes of carcinogenic diesel exhaust emissions over densely populated suburbs.

“This mess was predicted by Rozelle Against WestConnex [RAW] in 2017 in our aptly named publication Bottleneck,” Peter Hehir, former RAW convenor, who lives right next to the interchange told Green Left.

“It is probably worse than we imagined. I would hate to be in that queue in a tunnel waiting to exit at White Bay because the exhaust fumes will not be able to dissipate.

“The quality of the ambient air at Easton Park [above the interchange] has deteriorated. I go for a ride at about 6 o’clock in the morning in that area, and my eyes are stinging from the exhaust fumes.”

Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne told the meeting that the council would set up an expert committee to look at solutions. But the crowd was not satisfied.

Tinkering around with lanes and signage is nothing but “putting lipstick on a pig”, Hehir said.


The unfiltered exhaust stacks above the Rozelle Interchange. Photo: Peter Boyle

Howard Collins, Transport for NSW Coordinator General, took the brunt of resident anger, especially after he said that the problem of traffic being bottlenecked as it goes from 10 lanes into four would continue until the Western Harbour Tunnel opens in 2028.

Under questioning, Collins bluntly laid out the choices until then as: queues on Victoria Road and local feeder roads; long queues in tunnels; or gridlock in city.

The tunnels do not have air filtration, so the toll-paying traffic in them is being kept flowing at the expense non-tolled traffic.

The residents of Balmain, Rozelle and Annandale are suffering the biggest traffic jams and long queues just to get out of their suburb to take children to school or go to work.

Annandale resident Gretchen Gamble told GL that residents from her suburb can only go into one lane on Johnston Street to get to Victoria Road or the Anzac Bridge.

“The queue goes back closer to Booth Street than ever before. We can turn right or left onto the City West link, so traffic must travel to Balmain Road to then join its lengthy queues!”

Balmain resident Ismet Tastan, who works as a carpenter, said that getting to work each morning had become a nightmare. “It took me 40 minutes to get from Balmain Town Hall to Victoria Road,” he told GL.

Andrew Chuter, a veteran campaigner against WestConnex and an advocate for public and active transport alternatives, told GL that WestConnex was a major environmental disaster.

“The urgent need to decarbonise Sydney’s transport has been dealt a blow that will take generations to recover from.

“The architects of WestCONnex and the Rozelle interchange knew full well what they were doing. Their own modelling showed that traffic was going to get worse, not better. The fact that activists and experts kept pointing it out for many years shows just how corrupt the whole process was.

“Tweaking some lane merges won’t achieve anything. But arresting the crooks who foisted this, in their own words, ‘toll mania’ on Sydney would at least deter anyone from trying the same scam again,” Chuter said.

He supports the call for a royal commission into transport decisions made after the Barry O’Farrell Coalition government was elected in 2011.

“The only solutions from now on that have any chance of tackling these local and global problems will be based on a big shift to public and active transport.”

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