Does Westconnex meet its core objectives ?

Some contributors have drawn the attention of the People’s EIS to the core objectives of the Westconnex M4 East project. They argue that we should assess the project against them rather than on a topic by topic basis. This is another approach which seems worthwhile.

The objectives are set out in the Executive Summary which we have already published.

We will focus on some of these in detail later but in the meantime, here’s an overview with some residents’ comments.

Do you have anything to add to this section? If so contribute a comment or supply your details for contact at the end of this post.

Objectives

Support Sydney’s long-term economic growth through improved motorway access and connections linking Sydney’s international gateways (Sydney Airport and Port Botany), Western Sydney and places of business across the city

Sydney traffic congestions costs the economy billions of dollars each year. The question is: How far will Westconnex go to solving that traffic congestion? One analysis has already raised serious questions about traffic modelling. Another says that that there will be more congestion along the Parramatta Rd corridor. If the Westconnex leads to more traffic congestion in the Inner West and routes into the CBD, it will not improve access to businesses. It may depend which businesses you are considering but thousands of small businesses in Haberfield, Newtown and St Peters have not been consulted and fear that their livelihoods will be damaged not enhanced.

Why doesn’t this objective mention Badgery’s Creek airport which would be another international gate way, improving connections for Western Sydney, especially if there is a railway to the airport? Some are even asking whether the Westconnex was not partly driven by a desire by private interests to embed Sydney Airport’s commercial advantage as the key international gateway.

Relieve road congestion so as to improve the speed, reliability and safety of travel in the M4 corridor, including parallel arterial roads. Cater for the diverse travel demands along these corridors that are best met by road infrastructure

Contributions to the People’s EIS analysis appear to show that Westconnex will not solve congestion on arterial roads such as Parramatta Rd, Victoria Rd or Liverpool Rd. Many intersections will remain at the lowest Level of Service which is F. There is also concern about congestions building up in roads beyond the portals and this causing traffic to slow including in the tunnel.

The second sentence seems to assume rather than demonstrate that this objective is met by stating that diverse travel needs are ‘best met by road infrastructure.’

Claims by Westconnex that the project will improve speed and reliability depend on the reliability of its approach to traffic modelling which experts argue are flawed (see bibliography in contribution on flaws in modelling).

Create opportunities for urban revitalisation, improved liveability, and public and active transport (walking and cycling) improvements along and around Parramatta Road

This is a reference to Urban Growth’s plans for major redevelopment including high rise buildings along Parramatta Rd. There is no doubt that some opportunities for cycling and walking will be retained or developed but many argue that the overall impact of the project will be to increase car dependency which will have negative health impacts. The project could improve liveability for some but serious downgrade liveability for many thousands of others. The question is: are there alternative ways of achieving liveability goals without the destructive impacts of this project?

Enhance the productivity of commercial and freight generating land uses strategically located near transport infrastructure

This is a reference to faster travel times that should enhance the productivity and attractiveness for businesses along the Westconnex route. It also relies on traffic modelling predictions being accurate. Modelling has failed for some past projects leading to business failure. It’s also not clear exactly what this is referring to and in the absence of a transparent business case, it’s not possible to evaluate the positive impact of land uses.

Enhance movements across the Parramatta Road corridor which are currently restricted

It’s hard to see how this objective will be achieved when there will be more traffic on some sections of Parramatta Rd than there is now. Some intersections across Parramatta Rd west of Homebush will also be slower according to the M4 Widening EIS. Traffic flow might flow more easily in the M4 tunnel but some argue that it will hit congested spots not long after it emerges from the tunnel. Past experience would suggest that this congestion could bank up in tunnels. Also by 2031, the tunnels will reach full capacity.

Fit within the financial capacity of the State and Federal Governments, in partnership with the private sector

It is simply not possible to assess this objective because there is no public business case. Billions of dollars of public money are being paid to private companies.The public not the private sector carry the risk on this project. Currently, banks are being recruited to offer loans that will be repaid over many years by the toll paying public. News that the Westconnex Delivery Authority functions have been transferred to a private (but publicly owned) corporation, the Sydney Motorway Corporation will only add to the lack of transparency around the project. The only business case that was ever produced was found by the NSW Auditor General to be inadequate. Currently we do know that the Westconnex will absorb billions of Federal and State funds that could be spent on alternative projects.

Optimise user-pays contributions to support funding in a way that is affordable and equitable

This is a reference to tolls. Some commuters who chose to use the Westconnex M4 to travel to and from the Sydney airport would spend hundreds of dollars a week on tolls. While some agree with a user pays approach to roads, other argue that tolls shouldn’t be applied unless there is affordable public transport alternatives or alternative free viable routes.

Integrate with the preceding and proposed future stages of WestConnex, without creating significant impacts on the surrounding environment or duplicating any potential issues across the construction periods

This is very hard to accept given the 3 year long construction period for the M4 tunnel and the 24/7 construction plan. Even the EIS acknowledges there are significant impacts in relation to noise, loss of housing and destruction of heritage. Already on the M4 widening, there are issues with asbestos waste while at Beverly Hills noise walls have been stripped away from the M5 and will stay down for about 4 more months than originally predicted.

Protect natural and cultural resources and enhance the environment.

At least 50 hectares of open space and potential open space and a huge amount of vegetation would be lost across the Westconnex routes. A large number of heritage buildings, including homes, would be demolished. Communities are being decimated. It is hard to see that overall, this objective to protect natural and cultural resources is being met.

How does the EIS say Westconnex will achieve these objectives?

( People’s EIS comments are in italics.)

Once completed, the project would provide immediate operational benefits along the M4 and Parramatta Road, including a reduction in travel times and improvements in the level of road safety.

  • Whether the predicted improved travel times of 6-8 minutes by 2021 is worth the additional traffic congestion on Parramatta Rd from Parramatta Rd to Homebush and the Inner West is up to you. Traffic is predicted to flow more smoothly on Parramatta Road between Homebush and Haberfield but even that depends on traffic modelling that some argue could be flawed.*

The project is being developed as part of the first stage of WestConnex which also includes the M4 Widening project. Completion of both projects would provide a full motorway connection between the Blue Mountains in the west and Haberfield in the east. Future stages of WestConnex would link the project with Sydney’s south-west, as well as integral freight centres at Sydney Airport and the Port Botany precinct.

As such, the project would support NSW’s key economic generators and provide a strategic response to currently inadequate and highly congested transport routes. Critically, this includes providing the missing link in the motorway network which supports Sydney’s global economic corridor.

This statement is a little confusing because what is known as Sydney’s ‘global economic corridor’ runs from Ryde, Macquarie Park towards the CBD and Sydney airport. In any case, even if the chosen M4 route was the global economic corridor, this objective suggests that entrenching development towards Sydney’s CBD, which is on its eastern edge, is a desirable goal. Some planners, including the Committee of Sydney’s CEO Tim Williams, argue that a key driving principle of planning for Greater Sydney should be decentralisation with an emphasis on enhancing the centres of Liverpool and Parramatta which are nearer the geographic centre of the city.

Integrated land use and transport planning initiatives are key factors in developing a future in which Sydney’s growing population can reliably access jobs and services. To fulfil this need, the integrated package of transport improvements delivered by WestConnex would include complementary enhancements to the existing road network, a redesign of bus services and facilities, improved access to rail stations, and upgrades to cyclist and pedestrian facilities.

The public needs to be wary of phrases like “complementary enhancements” as it is not clear who is responsible for these or if they will happen. Indeed, you cannot assume they are ‘enhancements’ at all, given that AECOM, the authors of EIS, have long been promoting the positives of the controversial Westconnex while at the same time being paid with public funds to investigate the environmental impacts of the project.

There is a reference to improved bus services but bus lanes promised on Parramatta Rd are only options being considered by Transport NSW. Some bus routes across Parramatta Rd running N and S are predicted in the M4 widening to take longer after the completion of works.

The project complements a number of other transport and freight-based infrastructure initiatives identified in the Transport Master Plan. Ultimately, it is the combination of these initiatives that will best address Sydney’s needs.

If this is true, the question becomes what are these? are the initiatives being done in the right order and how will then mitigate the negative impacts including traffic congestions generated by the Westconnex.

To protect natural and cultural resources and enhance the environment, design, construction and operation of the project would be undertaken in accordance with environmental management commitments identified in this environmental impact statement (EIS), as well as any additional measures identified in conditions of approval for the project.

This promise covers many things. The EIS defers consideration of mitigation of many impacts off to the post approval ‘conditions of approval’ phase. It is not clear what access the public has to monitoring these. Residents would do well to take advice on this issue from residents dealing with noise impacts at Beverly Hills where Westconnex has begun the King Georges Interchange project and to Granville residents dealing with asbestos issues on the M4 widening project. At St Peters residents are having continual problems with safety breaches such as a contractor not washing wheels when carting contaminated waste from the Alexandria Landfill site. A resident at Haberfield has also written a strong submission about concerns about construction and operational impacts, concerns shared by the Mayor of Ashfield Lucille McKenna. There are also concerns about cracking by underground Northconnex tunnelling.

Conclusion

There are a huge number of questions hanging over the Westconnex project. Evidence is mounting that Westconnex would not meet its objectives and so should not be approved. The biggest concern that many residents, business owners, workers, planners and commuters have is that there will be no independent scrutiny by the NSW Planning Department of Westconnex’s claims. The People’s EIS is one small way of opening up the process to scrutiny and providing alternative ideas for consideration. We welcome contributions. Make sure the Planning Department knows about your concerns in one or more submissions. Submissions online can be made on the Department of Planning website http://majorprojects.planning.nsw.gov.au or sent to:
SSI 6307
NSW Department of Planning and Environment
GPO Box 39
Sydney NSW 2001

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