Five reasons why we object to the con job that is westCONnex

Gary Speechley

westCONnex - an Epic Fail!

Here are five reasons why we object to the con job that is westCONnex.

  1. What an epic failure
  2. Dodgy business case
  3. Not a brass razoo for public transport
  4. Jobs for the boys
  5. Sell it all – sell everything! Quickly!

Read on to discover more ….

What an epic failure!!

Years ago Sydney adopted a spoke-and-hub model of road infrastructure, with major roads fanning out in various directions from the Sydney CBD “hub”.

With the majority of jobs seen to be in the Sydney CBD, road and rail daily delivered people to the city each morning, and took them home each evening.

If you look at the westCONnex map above, you can see that the project looks to adhere to this outmoded and obsolete design ethos.

But it is far worse than that! The proposed westCONnex route fails to deliver even this simplest design goal – where’s the hub?

The proposed westCONnex route skirts the Sydney CBD hub, not even connecting to it.

Instead, the westCONnex route seeks to disgorge 100,000 cars per day or more at St Peters – nowhere near the CBD – and trust that the existing road network, the narrowest and most congested streets in Sydney, will accommodate this massive flow of traffic.

And even IF the Phase 3 tunnel section is ever built (more on that below), it will NEVER connect to the Sydney CBD.

Sydney now has distributed CBDs – any number of them including, but not limited to Parramatta, Hornsby, Ryde, Chatswood, North Sydney, Hurstville, Miranda, …

These are CBDs with thriving jobs and businesses, even to the extent of hosting government offices and departments that have decentralised away from Sydney’s CBD.

Why is there this outdated idea that every road has to lead into Sydney’s CBD?

More and more people are choosing to buy locally to where they work – to avoid the need to travel great distances.

With diverse CBDs, Sydneysiders travel across the metropolitan area – not into Sydney’s CBD and then out again. That’s what our “ring roads” were designed to facilitate.

The spoke-and-hub model is an epic failure, and westCONnex even fails to deliver to this failure.

Roads are simply carparks – the number of cars using them increases to fill the available areas of asphalt. All these projects do is move the traffic jam by just a few kilometres, filling up the vacant space behind them with even more cars at a standstill.

Ah – but it will shorten travel times!!

Indeed it will – until everybody else is trying to do the same thing.

When the M5 tunnel opened, it was amazing – a quick zip through the tunnel and out the other side, no lights, no delays.

But now, EVERYBODY wants to travel that route – including every truck that goes to and from Port Botany.

And there is no hint that any of these road projects will connect to the port.

Now, the M5 is a carpark. Most vehicles with only a single occupant.

Vehicles stationary – wasting millions of dollars in fuel.

Drivers idle – wasting millions of productive working hours.

And the M5 tunnel is the most closed road in Sydney – closed in each direction for some nights each month as cleaning and maintenance is carried out, so filthy are the air conditions in the tunnel.

So, on those occasions, when the M5 tunnel can deliver its greatest benefit to drivers – a quick transit to the other end – we have to drive the old routes such as Stoney Creek Road, and endure the traffic lights and delays. What use is that?

The westCONnex proposal will dump over 100,000 cars per day at St Peters. This leaves roads such as King Street, McEvoy Street, Euston Road and Mitchell Road to carry the burden of this epic planning failure.

Already, these streets are at capacity. There is no scope for widening them, but to designate them as permanent clearways.

The result is that St Peters and surrounding areas will be permanently, adversely affected.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay has declared, in Parliament, that he thinks King Street Newtown is “pretty ordinary”. Yet it is regarded as the most vibrant, diverse, eclectic shopping, dining, and entertainment strip in all of Sydney. There’s always something new to experience on King Street.

What would Duncan do? There’s no off-street parking behind King Street. There is no space for any multi-level carparks.

Does the coalition of Liberals and Nationals, who profess to champion the engine-room of the Australian economy – small business – want to see King Street wither and die? Really?

I think Duncan Gay’s ideas are pretty ordinary.

This is because Stage 3, the connecting tunnel to the north, will NEVER be built.

  • Governments will change – different parties, different ideas.
  • Economic circumstances will change, delaying any construction.
  • Government priorities will change, delaying any construction.
  • The cost will prove prohibitively expensive.
  • The government will have to buy out a failed private partner, as occurred with the Airport Rail Link.

Again, westCONnex is a partially delivered project resulting in yet another epic failure.

Dodgy business case

The NSW Auditor General has looked at the westCONnex project, and it didn’t turn out to be all that flash a result, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald on December 18, 2014. The article can be found here.

Appropriately using a traffic-light scoring system of red / amber / green, NOT ONE aspect of the project was regarded as green.

Six aspects of the project were rated as RED, or epic fail.

Of the nine aspects of the preliminary business case alone, five were RED, and four were AMBER (page 29 of the report).

In its report released [on Thursday], the auditor-general's office said it had since reviewed the final business case and "identified some issues".

"These deficiencies related to the way the business case dealt with risks around traffic projections, project cost, economic benefits, financial analysis, governance arrangements and the procurement strategy," Thursday's report says.

Indeed, “[O]ne of the main criticisms made by the auditor-general is that the same people responsible for designing and delivering the project – Infrastructure NSW first and then the WestConnex Delivery Authority – have been responsible for reviewing the project.

"The current governance arrangements blur responsibility and accountability for delivery, commissioning and assurance and thereby create a conflict.

To translate, that’s putting Dracula in charge of the Blood Bank! Damning indeed!

On EVERY level, the report states that the government could do better. As the Herald article asks transport Minister Duncan Gay, is there ANY example of best practice being used? The answer is a resounding NO!

The Auditor General’s report can be downloaded here.

Not a brass razoo for public transport

With $15bn up for grabs, it is distressing to see that not a single cent will be spent on public transport. Nil. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nought.

With stations in our area at Erskineville and Redfern over capacity and badly in need of upgrades such as lifts, not a chance.

There is the potential for additional rail capacity through Erskineville – the land is already there, both for an additional rail line and for the necessary platform. But no mention of using this option.

Instead, jobs and revenue will go to private companies. Road tolls will go to private operators. And users will be paying for the next 35 years or so, based on past projects.

We could halve the fares of public transport for years. Indeed, the people of Sydney could travel FOR FREE on public transport for years, if $15bn was to be made available.

Jobs for the boys

westCONnex promises jobs for the boys and girls who will construct it. Up to 7,000 jobs, we’re told.

With a $15bn project, that’s the equivalent of over $2.1m per worker.

Now that’s an age of entitlement. Australia’s motor vehicle manufacturing industry was shut down because government subsidies were seen to be too expensive, but nowhere near $2.1m per westCONnex worker.

Sell it all – sell everything! Quickly!

Much of the funding for westCONnex is dependent on past and future sales of OUR assets – such as electrical distribution poles and wires.

That results in private, notably foreign, owners reaping dividends that would go to us as taxpayers.

No Australian consortia ever seem to be able to put the funding and other aspects together to single-handedly mount successful bids for infrastructure sales.

  • Victoria’s Metro Trains is 60% Hong Kong owned.
  • South Australia’s electricity grid is 51% owned by Cheung Kong Group.
  • Sydney’s desalination plant is owned by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board (50%) and two funds managed by Hastings Funds Management Limited: Utilities Trust of Australia and The Infrastructure Fund (together 50%). At the end of 50 years, having received $10 bn in revenues (and without having to produce a single drop of water – we pay more for that privilege), the desalination plant is theirs, for not a single cent more from the investors.

Once again, an Australian government entity seems happy to sell, lease or otherwise dispose of our assets or interests, for short-term gain and for the benefit of primarily foreign interests.

The age of entitlement certainly isn’t over – if you’re a developer.

But what are the westCONnex options?

Believe it or not, there are numerous options to westCONnex.

Groups such as ecoTransit Sydney have put a lot of time, energy and research into alternative proposals to westCONnex, and have frequently offered their ideas for consideration by government.

Their website features three informative video presentations that discuss the nature of the problems, and proposed some alternative proposals.

But we are conditioned to think that “government knows best” – in fact, it isn’t the suppository of all knowledge – and ecoTransit Sydney have been ignored and sidelined.