With a state election campaign in full swing, NSW and Federal Ministers have been eager to praise Sydney’s $15 billion, 33-kilometre WestConnex as “Australia’s biggest transport project”.
But they’ve been as shy as kittens when it comes to sharing any of the important details with the public. For people in Brisbane and Melbourne, this will sound all-too familiar.
If Australia is going to build successful cities, we need to have an open and honest debate about solving the big challenges we face.
Top of the list for many of our capital cities is transport. But the antiquated approach of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his conservative colleagues in NSW, Queensland and Victoria has been to heave money into new roads.
Evidence shows that building more roads doesn’t solve congestion.
Brisbane’s traffic has been slower and more congested since two of the city’s biggest toll road projects, the Clem 7 and Airport Link tunnels, were completed.
In Melbourne, the Liberal Government was thrown out after one term. One of the pivotal issues was the woeful East West Link. New Premier Daniel Andrews has pulled the Victorian Government back from the brink of throwing away as much as $17 billion on the road project, but not before millions were wasted on a road that would not solve congestion.
Sydney is facing its own epic battle over our transport future. The $15 billion WestConnex toll road is driven by the same out-dated thinking that has failed in other cities.
The information we need to decide whether or not WestConnex will deliver for Sydney is either not available, not released, or doesn’t exist. The NSW Auditor-General and Infrastructure Australia are raising alarms about the planning and approval process.
But Premier Mike Baird and Tony Abbott have had their photo opportunity, complete with matching silver spades, and work has already begun.
This high-cost, low-benefit road project will eat up transport funding for decades, and rob us of the chance to build 21st century transport solutions. At a time of accelerating climate change, smart cities with increasing population densities are making clean and efficient public transport their priority.
Tony Abbott has said the new WestConnex tollway will have drivers ‘singing in their cars’, but that’s not what independent experts are saying.
An independent review commissioned by the City of Sydney shows WestConnex won’t meet the objectives laid out by the Government: It won’t improve transport for people travelling from the west to the CBD; it won’t connect freight from Sydney Airport and Port Botany to the west; it won’t provide urban renewal for Parramatta Road; and it certainly won’t relieve congestion.
Every day, over 226,000 people leave Western Sydney to get to work. Around 90 per cent travel by public transport. The Premier needs to act on the recommendations of his own government’s Metropolitan Strategy and invest in local jobs in Sydney’s west – not new toll roads to the CBD.
WestConnex has been spruiked as a way to link Western Sydney with Sydney Airport and Port Botany, especially for freight. But links to the airport and port are missing from the current plan and by the time Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek is operating in 2024, anyone looking for a faster drive from the west to Mascot will be going to the wrong airport.
The chance to save Parramatta Road has been lost. WestConnex was supposed to take traffic off this route, but the ever-changing plans of WestConnex have shifted again. Parramatta Road will see even greater traffic.
The NSW Government’s own Infrastructure Strategy states: “…rail is the most effective mode for enabling access to the CBD, with just two passenger trains able to carry more people than a single motorway lane carries in a typical peak hour.”
If WestConnex is built, it could funnel another 10,000 vehicles towards the CBD, which simply won’t fit. This massive increase in congestion would destroy years of work by the City of Sydney to transform our CBD for pedestrians, businesses and tourists.
WestConnex, like its ill-fated relatives in Brisbane and Melbourne, is little more than a series of money-making opportunities, designed to maximise toll collection and be sold off to private companies.
We need to break this cycle of poorly-thought through, profit driven roads. Australia needs serious, long-term investments in public transport that will support our growth and boost productivity.
Don’t believe the hype. Trying to solve this century’s transport problems with last century’s highways and toll roads will only condemn us to repeating the mistakes of the past.
* Clover Moore is the Lord Mayor of the City Of Sydney and a former member of the NSW Parliament.
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