By Cate Faehrmann, MLC and Senate candidate
The NSW Government has rubber stamped Nick Greiner’s business-as-usual plan for Sydney’s transport system. They’ve agreed to prioritise a new $13 billion motorway ahead of long overdue and desperately needed public transport infrastructure.
The proposed Westconnex motorway is a combination of the shelved M4 East and M5 motorway expansions. It will carve a destructive path through Sydney’s suburbs, contribute to air pollution, increase traffic on local feeder roads and do nothing to reduce congestion in the medium to long term. It will be an unmitigated disaster for Sydney, representing a worst case scenario for the 1950s era thinking of “the more roads the better”.
The Westconnex proposal comes after decades of massive investment in motorways. Of the dozens of major rail transport projects promised in that time, only one has been delivered. What we’ve been left with is a major deficit in public transport, with government after government unwilling to correct the imbalance between roads and rail.
So why does NSW have tunnel vision when it comes to transport planning? Despite the abundance of expert advice to the contrary, the only way we seem to know is for more motorways.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that this vision would be trumpeted by Infrastructure NSW. With zero community representation, their board has a vision for the state that is all about tollways and motorway consortiums.
However, Transport for NSW and the government are writing a Transport Masterplan.They’ve conducted a state wide consultation and know full well the community want better public transport, not more tollways. Their immediate support for the Westconnex is harder to explain, and I felt forced to label it “blind faith in motorways”.
Blind leading the blind
Recently I had the opportunity to question Roads Minister Duncan Gay during budget estimates hearings. I was interested to hear what evidence the government had before it to justify a $10 billion investment that could have been used to build a second harbour rail crossing that would increase the capacity of our entire rail system.
The Roads Minister had not seen any traffic modelling demonstrating his claims that the Westconnex will reduce congestion, nor had he seen any cost benefit analysis. He revealed to the Committee that it had in fact been a NSW Cabinet infrastructure subcommittee (of which he is not a member) that had signed off on the Westconnex. Cabinet subsequently agreed to a $1.8 billion spend to get the Infrastructure NSW “number one priority” moving.
The Westconnex, of course, has the Minister’s full support. Forget the conventional wisdom that one should assess a project’s value to the community, and then decide to build it. The Roads Minister and Cabinet have it the other way around: blind faith in motorways.
It doesn’t take more than a glance at the literature to see that the evidence against building more motorways is overwhelming. Dr Michelle Zeibots, one of Australia’s top transport experts, used the M4 and M5 motorways as case studies in her research to demonstrate the large and sudden increases in traffic volumes that occur after the opening of new motorways, referred to as ‘induced traffic growth’.
And this confirms what many of us suspected all along. Motorways simply fill up, quickly becoming car parks reminiscent of the smaller roads they replaced only a few years before.
Ron Christie, the former chief roads builder and rail bureaucrat who presided over Sydney transport during the Olympics, recently said in The Sydney Morning Herald: “What is plan B when both M4 and M5 run full in a few years’ time after completion?”
Additional motorways simply deliver choke points somewhere else in the system by creating more space for more cars. That might be good news for the roads lobby but it’s terrible for the community.
And every dollar spent on Westconnex, is one less spent on public transport. The only way forward is to invest in a world class public transport system that can withstand the major challenges ahead such as oil depletion and population growth.
After decades of motorway madness, we’re at a turning point. We need to ask ourselves: do we want a massive tollway, or do we want a world class public transport system? Experts agree that the way to get Sydney moving is with public transport improvements like a second harbour
rail crossing and rolling out light rail.
Those ideas are now delayed in favour of motorways that everyone knows will do absolutely nothing to relieve the congestion that will cost the Sydney economy $8 billion a year by 2020.
It’s time to reverse the motorways decision. Please join the Greens campaign to halt the Westconnex at nowestconnex.org