Nearly all other claims in the EIS depend for their validity of the traffic analysis. For this reason, the analysis of the traffic section is crucial. This article by the public transport advocacy group Ecotransit Sydney is republished with their permission.
Twenty years of failed promises
Twenty years ago the Greiner and Fahey Governments claimed construction of the M4 missing link and the M5 would significantly cut travel times and reduce congestion. Opponents said the motorways would only generate more traffic, eroding any short term improvements while pulling people off public transport and starving the rail and other pubic transport networks of funds for further development.
Today, Sydney’s road traffic is worse than ever and in some inner urban areas where the motorways converge, motorists are beginning to experience ‘super-jams’ — delays where people can get caught in traffic for hours.
The EISs for the M4 widening and M4 East don’t hide the fact that a similar future is waiting for everyone if these projects go ahead. A close look at the numbers shows that congestion is anticipated to get worse in many areas and traffic volumes on some sections of Parramatta Road are anticipated to be higher than if WestConnex was not built.
The spin used by the WestConnex Delivery Authority to justify the projects is that while the motorways won’t generate any significant improvements, the next motorway that connects the M4 and M5, will. The predictions are that travel times will improve on most routes from around 6 to 8 minutes in the morning peak by 2021 to an earth shattering 10 to 12 by 2031 if the full $15.4 billion WestConnex scheme is built.
With about eight different motorway projects under discussion in Sydney and an embarrassing recent history of legal proceedings over traffic predictions for tollways, coupled with little in the way of public transport for western Sydney, the community can be easily forgiven for feeling this situation is getting ridiculous and out of control.
Let’s start with the M4 Widening. The EIS states that by 2021 with minimal network changes at a point near Duck Creek, Parramatta Road will be carrying 43,990 vehicles on average per day, per year. With the M4 Widening it will carry 59,370 — that’s 35 per cent more — because with a toll in place, some traffic will divert to using non-tolled roads. Victoria Road to the north is estimated to carry a daily average of 70,250 per day, per year with the M4 Widening instead of 60,440 — that’s 16 per cent more — also because of toll diversion. By 2031 with the full WestConnex scheme in place, volumes will rise to 62,490 for Parramatta Road and 75,770 for Victoria Road. If WestConnex isn’t built, the 2031 estimates are 52,030 for Parramatta Road and 68,250 for Victoria Road.
Moving on to the M4 East, at points along Parramatta, Liverpool, Punchbowl and Canterbury roads, the story is much the same. Traffic volumes on local roads are higher with the M4 East motorway and full WestConnex motorway scheme in place than they would be without them. By 2021, average weekday traffic on Parramatta Road would be just over 29,000 in the ‘do minimum’ case but 42,000 in the ‘do something’ case. For Liverpool, Punchbowl and Canterbury Roads, volumes stay pretty much where they are with no real improvements. For 2031, the estimated traffic volumes, are all higher or much the same , with the full WestConnex scheme in place with the exception of Liverpool Road which would see just 2,000 less vehicles on average on a weekday.
These results don’t sit well with the claims from politicians that more motorway building will take traffic off local roads. One of the reasons why traffic volumes will remain high on many sections of Parramatta Road and other local arterial roads is because the motorway will unleash another round of induced traffic growth and significant sections of the network are needed to act as feeder routes to the M4. When taken as a whole — traffic on the motorways and local arterial roads — the volumes are always higher with the motorways in place. Results from the intersection analyses in the EISs aren’t much better. Using a traffic engineering standard that measures congestion on a scale from A to F, where F represents a breakdown in the flow of traffic so that queuing and extensive delays result, of the 29 intersections covered in the EIS for the M4 Widening (Church Street, Granville to Shaftesbury Road, Burwood), 15 will be operating at Level of Service F or experience a drop in service levels during the morning peak, 7 will be much the same, while Level of Service is estimated to improve on only 7. With the full WestConnex in place 16 intersections will be at Level of Service F or worse, 4 will be the same and 9 are anticipated to improve. The results are similar for the evening peak period.
Closer to the city, an inspection of the numbers in the EIS for the M4 East for 2021 tells a similar story. Of the 39 intersections analysed (Homebush Bay Drive to Crystal Street), 14 are anticipated to be operating at Level of Service F or experience worse congestion, 11 will be much the same, while 14 are estimated to improve during the morning peak period. Results for the evening peak are similar. With the full WestConnex scheme in place by 2031, 16 are anticipated to be operating at Level of Service F or experience worse congestion, 10 will be much the same and 15 are estimated to improve. Results are similar for the evening peak.
25 Parramatta Road intersections would continue with extremely poor level of service
Frighteningly, of the total 68 intersections investigated along the stretch of Parramatta Road, 25 are anticipated to be operating at Level of Service F. Add the 40,000 additional apartments that Urban Growth wants to build in the Parramatta Road corridor that have not been included in the traffic model and this number will increase so that conditions become even worse than the forlorn outcomes reported in the EISs. Keep in mind these documents are meant to be sales-pitches for the motorway. If these underwhelming results are the best the WestConnex Delivery Authority has been able to produce amongst its general obfuscation of the truth, the reality is likely to be far worse and certainly not worth spending $15.4 billion on. This is undoubtedly why the government will not release the business case for the motorways.