By ALLISON HORE
An inquiry into the suitability of the Western Harbour Tunnel project has been launched in the NSW Upper House.
The Public Works Committee, who are responsible for scrutinising public works of the NSW Government, will inquire into and report on the impact of the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link Project. This comes after widespread community concern about the potential economic and environmental impacts of the $14 billion project.
The Western Harbour Tunnel will run under Sydney’s harbour and connect the Rozelle interchange with the Warringah Freeway. The construction of the tunnel is expected to run from the first quarter of 2021 until 2026, then another tunnel connecting the Warringah Freeway to Balgowlah in the northern beaches is planned.
The NSW Government said the “much needed tunnels” would provide a “missing link” in the city’s motorways and would be a “game changer” for Sydney. They said the project would not only benefit car drivers, but also allow for more direct bus routes between the Inner West, Sydney and North Sydney.
Committee to investigate
Chairing the parliamentary committee is legislative council member Daniel Mookhey of the Labor party.
He said while easing traffic congestion in Sydney is necessary, “the adequacy of the business case, costs, governance structure and consultation methods” of the Western Harbour Tunnel project need to be examined.
“While it is no secret that something needs to be done in terms of the traffic in Sydney, the community has voiced their concerns about the costs and socio-environmental impacts associated with the construction of the Western Harbour Tunnel and related road projects,” he said.
The inquiry will investigate the adequacy of the business case for the project, whether alternative options were given sufficient consideration and the handling of the overall budget of the project. He said research into the viability and necessity of the project all took place before COVID-19 significantly changed people’s work and travel patterns.
“The committee is interested to find out whether the original cost benefit ratio remains current for the purpose of the project,” he said.
The unconventional tunnelling methods proposed for the project have also raised concern about the impact construction will have on the marine environment as well as nearby public sites, including Yurulbin Point and Dawn Fraser Baths.
Rather than a traditional tunnelling process, like the one used to dig the tunnels for Sydney’s metro system, the construction process for the new harbour tunnels would involve a large trench being dug into the harbour and prefabricated concrete tubes being lowered into position from barges above.
This process would disturb toxic sediment which has settled on the harbour floor over decades.
“The committee will also review the processes for assessing and responding to noise, vibration and other impacts on residents, and consider the impact of the project on the environment, especially marine ecosystems,” explained Mr. Mookhey.
Submissions into the inquiry will be open until the 18th of June. They can be lodged online via the NSW parliament’s website or via email to Public.Works@parliament.nsw.gov.au.