In 2012, WestConnex was to cost $10 billion dollars, and the estimated benefits were $12. By 2013, it was to cost $11.5 billion dollars. At the end of 2014, it is now forecast to cost $14.9 billion dollars, ($14,900,000,000). All 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, thence Botany, continue to Randwick, enter the CBD, go back to Balmain via Victoria Road. As well, light rail could be built 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 WestConnext.
- 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 reclaim two lanes of Sydney Harbour Bridge for rail, as envisaged by the original design. 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 has the Government considered these alternatives? You guessed it, they haven’t. Or if they have, they haven’t released the result publicly.