At full capacity, based on similar infrastructure, the entire WestConnex tollway is estimated to have a commercial value of perhaps five billion dollars – less than a third of its forecast cost.
In 2012, WestConnex was to cost $10 billion dollars, and the estimated benefits were $12 billion dollars. By 2013, it was to cost $11.5 billion dollars. At the end of 2014, it was forecast to cost $14.9 billion dollars. The latest (gu)estimated cost is $15.4 billion dollars. That’s $15,400,000,000 – about $3,500 for every person in Sydney, whether they use it not.
The current forecast cost of WestConnex already exceeds the original estimate of benefits, and both estimates are likely to be optimistic.
All of this, to move perhaps an extra 100,000 drivers per day.
Surely, for that much money there have to be better options. And there are. There are a number of things that could be done that would, collectively, do more to relieve congestion, for less money, and without the pollution and all the other downsides.
Roads are an inefficient means of moving people. Estimates vary, but during morning peak hour under Sydney conditions, a motorway lane is typically considered to move between 2,000 cars per hour – with 1.1 to 1.2 people per car, that’s somewhere between 2,200 and 2,400 people per hour. A single dedicated bus lane can move perhaps 3,500 people per hour. Depending on the configuration, a single light rail line can move around 10,000 people. Whereas a single line of heavy rail can move up to 20,000 people an hour, the approximate equivalent of 9 or 10 lanes of cars.
Ecotransit Sydney, a public transport advocacy group, has been investigating alternatives:
- For less than $2 billion the government could build a light rail loop that connects Balmain to Marrickville, Marrickville to Botany, continue to Randwick, enter the CBD, and go back to Balmain via Victoria Road and from Strathfield down Parramatta Road and into the CBD.
- Light rail to Parramatta and up Victoria Road might each cost another $1.5 billion. Either would move a good percentage of the capacity of the entire WestConnex project, and could be built for a fraction of the cost and time of WestConnex.
- A new train station could be added to the airport rail line at Doody St, midway between Mascot and Green Square, for perhaps $75 million.
- To take traffic off the M4, a Bus/train/park-and-ride interchange could provide an express service to the CBD from the former site of Pippita Station, on what was once the Abattoirs Branch line, now the Olympic Park line. A similar facility could be build at Kingsgrove, to do the same for the M5, and for less than $100 million each.
- Any number of existing roads in and out of the city could easily, quickly and cheaply have one lane converted to bus only or to T2/T3 lanes. Such measures will reduce the number of cars but increase the number of people carried.
- A more dramatic alternative would be to use an additional two lanes of Sydney Harbour Bridge for rail, which is how it was originally designed. The consequence would be 6000 fewer motorists per hour and up to 50,000 extra rail passengers – for a fraction of the cost and time that building WestConnex will take.
Public transport will not suit everyone. It doesn’t have to. Many commuters are flexible, they switch between public and private transport as circumstances change. For example, when the M5 Cashback was introduced, congestion on the M5 increased significantly. Conversely, taking even small volumes of traffic off the road means that the remaining traffic moves far more quickly. Consider school holidays: reduction in the volume of traffic is small, the increase in the speed of traffic is significant. A nearly full road still moves quite quickly. A completely full road does not.
And have the team behind EIS considered these alternatives? You guessed it, they haven’t, not properly. Or if they have, they haven’t released the results in the EIS.