Government response: Sucks to be you

The Government has released its response to last year’s Upper House Road Tolling Inquiry.

To summarise, the Inquiry found that: People can’t afford the tolls.

To which the Government responded: Neither can we. Sucks to be you.

(The words used were more flowery than that: “Without [tolls], the roads Sydney needs would not be built”.)

Which all raises the question: if Western Sydney’s toll roads aren’t affordable for drivers, or for governments, then why do we keep building them?

The answer is: to pay for roads being built in Eastern Sydney.  According to the Government, “user pays … includes instances where the user of one toll road is subsidising the cost of another toll road”

The government does not explain why it’s fair for Western Sydney drivers to subsidise Eastern Sydney drivers.

The government goes on to claim that “Road users … are prepared to pay a toll.”

As if there were a choice.

Road users might be prepared to pay a toll that’s fair, but the current toll is not fair.

The toll is too expensive, goes up too fast, and stays on for too long.

Motorists are being forced to pay $4.74 to save a couple of minutes, compared to the old freeway.

You have to be making a fair amount per hour before that becomes a fair price, and it’s only going to get more expensive.

The price is going to go up by 4% a year, more than twice as fast as salaries are rising.

Even at the current price, the M4 expansion will have been paid off after 2 or 3 years of tolls.

But M4 motorists will be paying 40 years of tolls.

Many motorists are already unable to pay the current toll.

Putting the toll on the M4 has reduced the number of vehicles using the M4 and increased the number using other roads.

All that has been done is to make one road a bit faster, at the cost of making other roads slower.

As a ‘solution’ to Sydney’s traffic problems, this is about as effective as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

What Western Sydney Motorists need is for the Government and the Opposition to:

  1. reduce the toll to a fair level, and
  2. promise to lift the toll entirely, once the expansion is paid off.

Nothing short of that is fair to Western Sydney.

The Inquiry’s report is here.

The Government’s response is here.

Would you like to pay 43 years of tolls, or just 6?

Starting on 15 August, the M4 and the M5 are to be tolled for the next 43 years, to pay for WestConnex Stage 3.

On 7 June, the Daily Telegraph reported that Luke Foley supports “all three stages of the WestConnex”  (subscription may be required).

If this is true, it would reverse Labor’s previous position, which was to support the first two stages of WestConnex, but not Stage 3.

Well placed sources have confirmed that Foley did say that the M4 and M5 need to be linked, but he did not say how they should be linked.

Stage 3, also known as the M4-M5 Link is an enormously expensive tunnel under the inner city. It will eventually connect Haberfield and Balmain to Kingsford Smith Airport, via St Peters. If built, it will cost at least $8 billion dollars.

It would link the M4 and the M5, but that is not the only way that the M4 and the M5 can be linked.


The City of Sydney have released an ‘Alternative to WestConnex‘. Their alternative proposes linking the M4 and the M5. But they don’t propose building an expensive tunnel. Instead, the City of Sydney would upgrading the A3 (King Georges Rd to Centenary Drive).

EcoTransit, a public transport lobby group, believe the City of Sydney plan is superior to the WestConnex M4-M5 plan. But they also believe that there is an even better option – to upgrade the A6 (Silverwater Road to Stacey St).

Why this matters

Tunnels are expensive, about ten times times as expensive as a normal road.

Upgrading either the A3 or the A3 would provide all the benefits of the tunnel, but at a fraction of the cost.

And that means that the government wouldn’t need to charge 43 years of tolls. Just 6 years of tolls could raise enough money to pay for it all.

Upgrading the A3 or the A6, or both, would not only provide a linkage between the M4 and the M5, it would make it easier to get around Western Sydney.

This which would encourage businesses to locate in the West rather than in the East. And that means more jobs in Western Sydney.

So why does that the Liberal Government want to build an expensive tunnel under the inner city, rather than upgrade existing roads in the Western Suburbs? Truth is, we don’t know. But the M4-M5 Link does one thing that an upgrade of the A3 or the A6 doesn’t. The M4-M5 Link makes it easier to get from the North Shore to the Airport.

Whatever the reason, if it gets built, Western Sydney gets to pay for it.

The Government’s sneaky plan to privatise the M4.

Right now, the M4 is owned by the people of NSW, and is free to use.

Some time in the next few months, drivers will start paying $4.42 to drive from Church Street to Homebush Bay Drive.

That money isn’t going to the NSW government. It’s going to a company called SMC  – Sydney Motorway Corporation.

The government has given the M4 to SMC, for the next 40 years.

SMC will charge drivers up to $8.60 – each way. And this toll will increase by 4% a year. This is twice as fast as wages are rising.

You’ll never see a for-sale sign on the M4.

SMC is government owned, so transferring control of the M4 to SMC doesn’t count as selling the M4.

All you’ll see SMC is being sold. But SMC has control of the M4.

So when SMC goes, the M4 goes with it.

If you don’t think this is a good idea, Stuart Ayres is the Minister responsible for the M4. There will be a rally at his office tomorrow, Monday the 5th. For more detail, visit

Save 40 Minutes? Less than 15, says traffic expert.

At the NSW Upper House Inquiry into Road Tolling on 22 May, Professor
David Hensher, Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics
Studies at the University of Sydney, was asked whether WestConnex would save
drivers 40 minutes on a trip between Parramatta and Sydney Airport.

Professor Hensher replied:

“It is too high; I do not believe it”.

Earlier the same day, Labor MLC John Graham had tabled an RMS document
showing that drivers would save around 15 minutes.

Professor Hensher said the prediction was unrealistic:

“15 minutes [would be] the best-case scenario … These are the optimistic numbers”.

The full transcript is available here:


Citizen’s complaint to Minister for Planning Rob Stokes about failures in Westconnex planning process


The People’s M4 EIS website has been quiet since submissions closed. 17 submissions were received from Government agencies and Local Councils. Approximately 4800 community groups and individuals also made submissions.

Normally ‘submitters’ as they are known are sent notification letters with a number that they can then look up in the Response to submissions report to see how ‘the proponent’, in this case Westconnex, has responded to their submission.

On this occasion, the Response to submissions report explicitly stated that letters had been sent – in fact, as far as People’s M4 East EIS is aware, these letters were never sent.  One of the People’s M4 EIS editors  has made a detailed complaint to the Department secretary Carolyn McNally which she has posted on her blog.

Today, we publish a second complaint from a resident John Hyde who lives near the M4 East project in Ashfield. If you have any questions for John or want advice on sending your own letter, post your comment at the bottom of this post. Continue reading

Haberfield School Parents and Citizens submission to M4 East

(Editor:This submission was submitted by Vice President Sherril Nixon on bahalf of the Haberfield P & C. As with a number of other organisations, the NSW Department of Planning omitted the name of the organisations meaning that members of the public would be most unlikely to find the submission. This submission was submitted before the Westconnex business case was finally released in November 2015)

The parents and community members that make up the P&C at Haberfield Public School object to the WestConnex development. We do not believe this is an efficient use of $15.4 billion of taxpayers’ funds, because we do not believe it will lead to the congestion improvements promoted by the State Government and the WestConnex Delivery Authority (now Sydney Motorway Corporation). We are deeply troubled that the State Government has ignored the community by signing contracts to build this road before releasing this EIS, thefull business case, or obtaining planning approval – this is a reprehensible lack of transparency and proper procedure. Without seeing the business case the community has no way of knowing what other alternatives were considered and what their associated costs were. We are also troubled that the ‘consultation’ with the community has primarily been done in a way that disempowers the community from feeling like they can influence the outcome.

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NSW government departments confirm residents’ air quality concerns

(Ed: This contribution is by retired TAFE NSW researcher and University of Sydney academic Kerry Barlow)

From the perspective of an ordinary local resident, the NSW government’s whole M4 East EIS process has lacked transparency and integrity. A project currently costed at $16b should have its planning and EIS process conducted in a timely and measured way. This has not been the case with this EIS. The local “information sessions” were staged in an individualistic way that meant locals couldn’t ask critical questions to a panel and listen to all responses. Residents, childcare, schools and business owners were only given 45 days to make submissions to an EIS that was a highly technical series of documents with a word count of 5,000 pages.

The WDA received about 4500 submissions, and has treated those by residents and community groups with contempt by scanning them into numerous PDFs and posting them with just a list of submitters on a top page. As part of the EIS process the WDA is supposed to report back on how it is going to deal with the substantive issues raised in the submissions. The way they have posted the submissions makes to very difficult to find the issues raised by particular groups for our follow-up in the EIS report. Processes with transparency and integrity treat all citizens respectfully – none of us feel it has happened in this case.

Despite concerns, Government Departments make only minimal comments

To add insult to injury, the three key NSW organisations expected to make submissions as part of their important role in a democratic society, ie NSW Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chief Scientist and Engineer have all put in fairly minimal comments on this EIS. This is disappointing, given the huge cost of the project, and the fact that their own budgets will no doubt suffer over time if the NSW government has to subsidise further project cost blow-outs.

The NSW Health submission made no attempt to analyse the methodology of the Human Health Risk Assessment component of the EIS. If they had done so, they would have made comment on several flaws, including:

  • the mortality data used in the EIS for three key factors (COPD, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease) shows that Sydney Area Health Service has rates higher than the average NSW rate for all three indicators, yet the risk assessment does not question whether exposure to already elevated levels of NO2 and PM2.5 may be a cause of these elevated rates

  • the reliance on data that is five (5) years old for the key health indicators is problematic, given background sources of key pollutants (NO2 and PM2.5 and PM10) have increased in that five (5) year period, as evidenced by vehicle fleet data. According to the Sydney Morning Herald (March 15-16 2014) the number of diesel vehicles on the road in Australia has more than doubled since 2005. ABS data shows that in 2015 there are 3.6 million diesel powered vehicles, accounting for 19.7% of the fleet; and over the five year period from 2010, the number of Passenger vehicles and Light Commercial vehicles registered with diesel fuel increased by 96.4% and 62.9% respectively (ABS, Motor Vehicle Census, Australia, cat no 9309.0). This increase in diesel fuel use would have had both short term and longer term impacts on health in the period since this health data was published and has not been captured by it, nor has this health risk assessment mentioned increased risks from the growing diesel fleet.

  • the current Sydney Area Health Service collects data on health risk factors, published for each Local Health District. The risk factor model is one that can be called a “personal behaviour” model (ie includes risky alcohol drinking, smoking, consumption of fruit & vegetables, being overweight or obese, and adequate physical activity) which does not include external risk factors, like living within a few hundred metres of a busy road. The fact that the Area Health Services in NSW do not collect data for external risk factors, although they are known (eg exposure to coal dust (mainly PM10) and road pollution (notably NO2 and PM2.5) means that more meaningful data is not available to these types of Human Health Risk Assessments. NSW Health is negligent in not acknowledging the known risks of exposure to these dangerous emissions and should be collecting data related to them via methods that collect cancer and other registry information based on people’s home and workplace location.

NSW EPA lacks technical expertise to assess data

The EPA’s admission in their submission that they do not have in-house expertise to assess the air dispersion model (the Graz Mesoscale Model/Graz Lagrangian model) because they do not have the relevant technical expertise to provide a meaningful review is of huge concern. This is the main agency this state relies on for reviews of major projects like WestConnex, yet it is forced to admit to lack of expertise.

Although minimal, their submission did pick up several issues of concern in the EIS, which included:

  • the air dispersion modelling is not satisfactory, due to insufficient justification and validation for the selection of Canterbury Racecourse meteorological data; recommends provision of justification for choice of meteorological data and revision of GRAMM modelling to more accurately simulate the meteorology of the sites
  • noted issues with the methodology of calculating the 1-hour average conversion of NOx to NO2; noting two different methods used for the community receptors and residence/workplace receptors based on an empirical method (that may underestimate actual conversions of NOx to NO2) rather than a method listed in the NSW approved methods; recommended further analysis and justification is required

  • results for the regulatory worst case scenario for NO2 and air toxics was not presented the predicted “hot spots” on contour map don’t appear to match traffic volumes

  • noted the model used to estimate in-tunnel emissions (the PIARC model) assumes light diesel vehicles will only be 50% of the fleet by 2031, when realistically they would be more likely be 80% – thus under-estimating PM2.5 (and finer) and NO2 emissions in-tunnel; recommends more realistic fuel-mix types are required for the 2031 estimates

  • notes the heavy vehicle exhaust PM factors used in the in-tunnel emissions are estimated 80% below the PIARC data; recommended the reason for the variation be provided and justified

The Chief Scientist and Engineer provided a very minimal submission which only picked up a few issues of concern. They appear to have accepted the Air Quality Impact Statement claim that there would be no emissions at the portals, without testing whether the congestion points near portals might prove to be new sources of pollution.

This submission found:

  • the construction (as opposed to operational) impacts assessment has been treated in a summary and cursory manner, with no attempt to quantify emissions of critical air pollution, eg NOx/NO2, PM10, PM2.5 during construction; recommends stronger emphasis on mitigation to reduce the high risks of increased exposure to PM10 and annoyance from dust from the construction phases
  • some issues with the use of the GRAL model, which it says the EIS does not evaluate sufficiently. It states the GRAL model appears to underestimate some emission readings and over-estimate others, depending on the time of day; recommends the proponents comment on and confirm (or refute) the Chief Scientist’s claim that GRAL is slightly under-estimating vehicle emissions in congested traffic conditions and the implications for the health risk assessment

All the concerns raised by these submissions do need to be taken seriously so that residents’ health is not further compromised by the increased volume of traffic (which, by definition, will add to the total background volumes of emissions) and by the increase in the number of “hot spots”.

Haberfield & Dobroyd Point School P & Cs say M4 East threatens safety of children

The Inner West Courier reported today:

“The parents at Haberfield Public School fear our children will be at the centre of a toxic triangle of pollution stack and portals after three or more years of construction just metres away from the school,” Haberfield Public School P & C vice president Sherrill Nixon said.

Ms Nixon said the streets around Haberfield Public School will see three years of noise and heavy truck movements during construction, only to end up with polluting exhaust stacks less than 500m away.

“The impact on our school community is devastating,” she said. “We insist our kids’ learning and wellbeing comes first.”

During construction, the parents fear that safety of children hasn’t been considered, with extra construction vehicles to be in the area around Reg Coadie Reserve.”

Dobroyd Pt Public school Parents and Citizens Association is also concerned about danger to the health and safety of children. (Ed: The M4 East EIS Social Impact study omitted to include impacts on the Dobroyd Point Public School. )

Labor MP for Summer Hill Jo Haylen is also quoted in the Inner West Courier report:

“The parents are not alone in having doubts about the WestConnex project, with Summer Hill Labor member Jo Haylen also expressing her doubts.

“WestConnex fails when it comes to traffic congestion, air quality, heritage preservation and unfair acquisitions,” Ms Haylen said.

“Our kids will look back and shake their heads that WestConnex was ever built, but in the short-term, they’ll have to deal with the immediate construction chaos.”

Read the full story.

Jozefa Sobski : A local view of Westconnex M4 East from Ramsay Street, Haberfield

(Ed:This submission by Jozefa Sobski is one of thousands submitted to EIS. If you didn’t know it was there, it would be hard to find it because the Department has failed to follow its own rules and publish a list of submitters with their suburbs.)

When my partner and I purchased our home in 148 Ramsay Street Haberfield, we were aware that it was on a major arterial road near a major intersection, Wattle Street. It was 1989. The future proposals at that time were for a City West Link Road – a four lane link between the City and the F4 Freeway Interchange at Concord.

The documents at that time indicate on p9 that “not a single residential property is required.” Of course much has changed since then, including the volume of traffic on our local roads and the development of the City West Link Road. The growth in privatisation of schools has led to increased volumes of traffic as has urban consolidation and its attendant construction of major residential apartment developments.

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