The WestConnex tollway project continues to expand, despite widespread community objections to the consequences it will bring. These include increased traffic in the inner west of Sydney; environmental and pollution problems; forced acquisitions and destruction of heritage homes; associated increases in tolls for motorists; and the overall cost to the public — $16.8 billion and counting.
The latest addition is an announcement by the Sydney Motorway Corporation that the state government is planning to build an extra tunnel in inner west Sydney. The expansion would involve a one-kilometre tunnel between Iron Cove Bridge and an interchange at Rozelle, where it would connect to the 33-kilometre long WestConnex motorway.
NSW Greens transport spokesperson Mehreen Feruqi said the government was "attempting to build its way out of the traffic jam that will be created by WestConnex".
WestCONnex Action Group spokesperson Pauline Lockie said the addition of another tunnel and related widening of Victoria Road would be "hugely expensive".
"[The government] needs to come clean about what the project is really costing and residents need to be told what is going to be acquired — not just in Rozelle but across the entire route," she said.
"All of us who are close to this have always said that if you build this you are not going to be able to stop building more roads."
Lockie and her family are themselves victims of the state government's forced acquisition policy. Their house was forcibly acquired and they are now obliged to pay thousands of dollars in rent to the acquiring authority, Roads and Maritime Services, while running up huge legal bills in their attempt to appeal the acquisition.
The Lockie family is being charged $875 a week to remain in the family home. With about $16,000 in legal costs so far and still paying off a mortgage on the property, "it's just cost, after cost, after cost," she says.
Lockie and others whose homes have been seized are being offered substantially lower compensation for the properties by the government than independent valuations of their market value. "Covering the gap is the difference between whether you can afford to stay in the area or not," Lockie said.
Greens state MP for Balmain Jamie Parker said it is "disgraceful that people have no option but to take protracted and hugely expensive legal action as they are uprooted from their homes and communities.
“Premier [Mike] Baird knows that the whole valuation and compensation process in NSW is broken and he must step in and act to reform the process."
About 200 properties are being acquired for the first stage of WestConnex, and 159 for the second.
Meanwhile, tunnelling for WestConnex commenced in Concord on July 18. The work is part of the M4 East component of the multi-sector project.
Demonstrations by residents and supporters are continuing wherever test drilling and other work commences. Residents gathered to protest when contractors arrived to cut down trees in Reg Coady Reserve, Haberfield, on July 18, halting the destruction for several hours.