Peter Hehir campaigning against WestConnex on the City West Link. Photo by Bill Holliday

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By ANDREW CHUTER

The upcoming NRMA election of directors is shaping up to be a referendum on the WestConnex tollroad, says one of the two candidates contesting the Harbour Region. Mr Peter Hehir, a retired construction manager, film actor and anti-tollroad activist, is standing against Mr Tim Trumper, who is the director of the Harbour Region and the current NRMA chairman.

The region extends from Botany Bay to the Northern Beaches, encompassing many of the suburbs most negatively impacted by WestConnex, and also includes those areas that will be affected by the yet to be approved Western Harbour and Northern Beaches tollroads.

The 315,000 NRMA members who reside in the region will be sent election material in the coming weeks. Voting will open from 23 September to 28 October. All current financial members of the NRMA are eligible to vote.

Mr Trumper is on record in the May/June 2019 edition of the NRMA’s magazine Open Road.

“I’m pleased to say transport infrastructure projects like WestConnex, NorthConnex and the Sydney Metro Northwest Project will all come onto the network in the coming years, representing an important change in Sydney’s transport. The NSW Government has also committed to progressing the Northern Beaches Link, which is a vital piece of infrastructure that will improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders.”

NSW Labor says “No” to tunnel

In the recent NSW election, the present leader of the NSW Labor Party, Jodi McKay, promised that the Western Harbour Tunnel would not be built under a Labor Government. Without this link under the harbour the construction of the Northern Beaches Link would be unlikely to proceed.

Mr Hehir, who is also the convenor of the 850 -member group Rozelle Against WestConnex and the editor of the RAW newspaper Bottleneck!, says that tollroads like WestConnex aren’t the solution to Sydney’s traffic congestion.

He, like many transport experts worldwide, argues that public transport, especially rail with 12 times the capacity of road, is the only solution capable of efficiently moving the city’s workers during peak periods.

“New roads have never provided a solution to congestion, nor can they, because of induced demand”, says Mr Hehir. “This is a phenomenon where new roads, regardless of the number of lanes, generate new traffic and within a very short period become choked, making the situation as bad as or worse than before.”

“Freeways, especially radial freeways, those that have the CBD at or near their hub, have never worked for long wherever they have been tried – not anywhere in the world”, says Hehir. “Many of these freeways have subsequently been torn down.”

Hehir’s other concerns are the cost – estimated by SGS Economics and Planning at $45 billion – along with the ever-increasing tolls and the concentration and release of carcinogenic diesel exhaust.

He cites figures from the 2.2 km M5 East tunnel provided by the RMS, suggesting that over 300 tonnes of toxic material will be released annually from the 4 unfiltered exhaust stacks in Rozelle alone.

“I struggle to see how this will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders”, says Hehir, “especially those who pay to breath the toxic air in the tunnels or live anywhere near the fallout plume from the stacks”.

The business case for WestConnex has also been questioned. Evidence given at the Parliamentary Inquiry into WestConnex suggests that the costs had been understated and the benefits overstated. In Sydney, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the Cross City Tunnel went broke when toll revenue failed to match forecast revenue. The Cross City Tunnel has been in receivership twice.

Zeibots predicts failure of WC Stage 3

The Sydney Harbour Tunnel has cost NSW taxpayers over $1 billion since the tunnel began operation, monies paid by the government to the operators because usage fell well short of the projected figures. In Brisbane, the Clem7 and Airport Link also failed for the same reason.

In her evidence to the WestConnex Inquiry, UTS transport planner Dr Michelle Zeibots predicted that WestConnex Stage 3 would “achieve an outcome similar to that experienced by the Cross City Tunnel”. Zeibots became well known for correctly predicting the failure of the Cross City Tunnel in 2002, a year before construction began. Her submission provides evidence that public transport speeds are what ultimately determine road speeds and that projects such as WestConnex fail to improve congestion in the long term.

Hehir says he is keen to ensure that the election offers NRMA members a clear alternative in relation to radial tollroads. That will be difficult, given that the NRMA have imposed restrictions on candidates that preclude any mention of “policy, objectives or intentions” in the published candidate’s statements.

Mr Trumper was approached for comment but no reply was received by deadline.