By Joe Bourke
The NSW Government has announced a $20 billion plan for the state’s infrastructure, which would include a new western Sydney harbour tunnel which has reignited public debate about the state’s struggling sector.
The western Sydney harbour tunnel would start in Rozelle and run to Gore Hill or the Warringah Freeway.
NSW Greens spokesperson for Roads and Transport, Dr Mehreen Faruqi said that the Government’s plans “have no stand-alone business plans” and are “reliant on billions of dollars being spent”.
“This latest thought bubble from the Government is for yet another harbour tunnel which again demonstrates this Government’s tunnel motorway madness at a cost of tens of billions of dollars that will come at the expense of hospitals, schools and public transport.” Dr Fahruqi said.
Leichhardt Labor Councillor Darcy Byrne is also opposed to the tunnel proposal, calling it an expensive idea.
Mr Byrne said “It is high time the Government released a cost benefit analysis and traffic modelling for WestConnex rather than redesigning and extending it every three months.”
Dr Faruqi released revenue modelling on November 27 calculating that the WestConnex project has a “black hole” of more than $600 million every year, which will total $4.6 billion by 2029.
“The community already knew the WestConnex will not solve transport problems and it will increase pollution and congestion. Now we also know that there is no economic case for it either. Yet this Government is pushing ahead with its addiction to motorways,” she said.
“If the Government has alternative numbers they must release them and hold the project up to public scrutiny.”
The NSW Government said in a November 4 media release that the WestConnex project is “expected to generate up to 10,000 jobs during construction and deliver more than $20 billion in economic benefits to NSW.”
Cr Byrne said that the WestConnex process has been secretive, and has called for a more transparent way of dealing with Sydney’s congestion issues.
“The truth is the Government has been very secretive about the justification for WestConnex. Tony Abbott promised at the election that any federal Government investment in infrastructure exceeding $100 million would be referred to the independent body, Infrastructure Australia, for assessment. In this case, he is spending billions of dollars on WestConnex but is refusing to allow Infrastructure Australia to look at it,” he said.
Cr Byrne believes that a mix of public transport and roads backed by independent analysis is the key to solving Sydney’s congestion woes.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t be more ambitious for the future of Sydney and plan for a citywide underground metro system like every other global city has. London has the Tube, China has 11,000 km of rail lines for very fast trains. We need to improve transport in Sydney, we need investment in roads and we need investment in public transport, but it all has to be based on independent, expert advice.”
Marrickville Greens Councillor David Leary condemned Marrickville Council’s “weak position” on the WestConnex motorway.
This followed Labor, Liberal and an Independent Councillor’s refusal to support the Greens motion that Marrickville Council strongly opposes WestConnex during Council debate on the issue.
Cr Leary said that the motion also asked that the council commit $20,000 towards “providing information to local residents and other forms of support for the community campaign against the motorway.”
“The Greens believe that the best way to deal with Sydney’s traffic grid-lock is to invest in better public transport. WestConnex will destroy our community and it should be abandoned rather than simply re-routing or modifying it as Labor is advocating through its weasel words that hide its real agenda,” Clr Leary said.
Leichhardt’s Cr Byrne said that the Greens’ response to WestConnex is a “knee jerk reaction of opposing WestConnex based on ideology,” and that he was willing to consider any suggestion from transport experts about how to improve congestion in Sydney.
“Councils like Leichhardt and Marrickville have a real problem in that there’s many people in Sydney that believe that we just oppose everything.
We have a long history of campaigning against development and infrastructure projects and where that is based on the facts and evidence, that is justifiable, but if we just have a knee-jerk response as suggested by the Greens every time anything is proposed, then our views will be discounted by the Government and by the general population in Sydney. They will rightly see in that case that we don’t look at issues based on their merits but oppose them based on our ideology.”
Community opposition to WestConnex is growing, with a street festival ‘Reclaim the Streets’ set to take place on December 13.
According to the group organising the festival, it is opposing the compulsory acquisition of eighty homes on Campbell Street in St Peters and what it calls “health risks” and a bad approach to climate change, among other things.