In an astounding display of bureaucratic arrogance, the chief of the company building the controversial $17 billion WestConnex tollway complex described the reintroduction of tolls on the widened M4 motorway as "exciting", while dismissing concerns about the health impacts of exhaust ventilation stacks planned for the route of the WestConnex tunnels.
Speaking at the Infrastructure Partnerships Australia conference on November 6, the head of the Sydney Motorway Corporation, Dennis Cliche, boasted that 17 million toll "transactions" had already taken place.
About 150,000 vehicles have used the 7.5 kilometre widened section of the M4 — stage one of the three-stage, 33 kilometre project — on weekdays.
The state government's decision to reintroduce a toll to help pay for WestConnex is controversial, with the state Labor opposition describing it as "a tax on western Sydney motorists".
Since Cliche earns a base salary of $717,000 a year, another road toll will not worry him too much — unlike working motorists who are forced to use their cars because of Sydney's inadequate public transport system.
Ridiculing the widespread community concerns about the health effects of exhaust ventilation stacks proposed for WestConnex tunnels, Cliche insisted he “would have no trouble living underneath one".
Meanwhile, a study commissioned by the Inner West Council predicted that peak-hour traffic in many local streets in the inner west will triple in volume over the next five years as a result of WestConnex.
The study's modelling shows that, once construction is finished, hundreds of additional cars will choke local streets and arterial roads as they try to either access or avoid WestConnex.
It was also recently revealed that the cost to taxpayers of building the first three stages of the proposed F6 Extension between Arncliffe and Loftus in the city's south, has been estimated at more than $9 billion.
The figures, revealed on November 3, came from leaked state cabinet documents obtained by Fairfax Media and the ABC. They also show that the government estimates it will be facing an extra $2.2 billion in operational costs for the F6 toll road extending south towards Wollongong over 35 years.
As the public opposition to Westconnex and other tollways grows, protests against the projects are taking different forms.
The University of NSW branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) passed a resolution on November 8, calling for the university-based superannuation fund, Unisuper, to divest from the Transurban tollway corporation.
The resolution noted that: "Unisuper is the largest single investor in Transurban, owning a 15% share. Transurban operates most of Australia's toll roads, with full ownership or controlling stakes in 11 toll roads and stakes of 50% in both Sydney's M7 and M5 motorways.
“The company is considered to be the likely buyer for WestConnex."