Toll roads take a toll, not just on your bank account. Photo: Alec Smart

Posted by & filed under Featured Inner West Independent, Inner West Independent.

By Peter Hehir

Concerns long raised by critics of the NSW Government’s inner city tollroads are now being admitted, albeit belatedly, by both the RMS and the Berejiklian Government.

When it was proposed years ago that three and four lane tunnels would merge with the inner west local road network, the resulting traffic chaos was evident to all.

Well, almost all…

The proponents were deaf and blind to the serious issues expressed by the public and those traffic management specialists who’d actually studied the proposals. People whose business it is to devise and evaluate traffic solutions.

With the new M4 East Homebush to Haberfield tunnel due to open in a matter of weeks there are now grave concerns that traffic on the City West Link will be totally gridlocked, with commuters backed up well into the tunnels.

A Sydney Morning Herald article by Matt O’Sullivan, published on June 7, suggests that the chaos is unavoidable. Freeways, tolled or otherwise, create congestion. This is an immutable fact. They induce traffic. Period.

This is a conundrum without a solution, an approach that has been thoroughly discredited as a means of solving traffic congestion in every country in the world where it’s been tried. Los Angeles is the classic example.

In 2017, RAW (Rozelle Against WestConnex), a community group formed to oppose this absurd and costly folly, published Bottleneck! a 20-page newspaper exposing WestConnex’ s fundamental flaws.

The dozen or more resident groups representing tens of thousands of Inner West residents who protested long and loud against WestConnex were also ignored; their concerns that the independently-estimated $45 billion project would actually worsen the traffic situation, were simply binned with the rubbish.

Paying for the privilege of poisoning yourself

The RMS figures provided from the Lane Cove Tunnel show that air quality approaching the exit portals was 50 times more polluted than the ambient air.

Those sitting in their cars as they crawl towards the Parramatta Road and City West Link exits will be breathing in huge quantities of toxic material. There is no safe limit when ingesting air pollution.

Diesel exhaust is carcinogenic. The World Health Organisation acknowledged this in 2012. How long will it take for tunnel users to realise that they are simply poisoning themselves and paying for the privilege? And that the time savings promised by Berejiklian are an illusion?

Tolls on the M4 East tunnel are $4:27 for cars and $12:81 for trucks. Who pays for this?

Commuters from the west who have long been denied accessible and affordable public transport will bear the brunt of the out of pocket expense and the cost to their health.

Proponents will no doubt counter criticisms of the inevitable bottlenecks and the gridlock by saying all will be well once Stage 3b of WestConnex is completed; that some minor inconvenience is to be expected; that these sorts of projects will always have teething problems.

They’ll say that once the Rozelle Interchange and the Western Harbour Tunnel are constructed the chaos will simply disappear. It’s as if they repeat it often enough, then somehow it will magically come true. Just like the emperor’s new clothes.

But the bottlenecks at Ashfield and Haberfield will just be exported to White Bay. Peak hour traffic there will hardly move as it converges from all directions.

Vehicles from North Sydney; the Anzac Bridge; St Peters; Newtown; Johnson Street; from the Gladesville and Iron Cove Bridges, the Victoria Road traffic will continue to crawl, bumper to bumper; as will that on Parramatta Road, Broadway and the Harbour Bridge.

The reality is that there will always be traffic jams, bottlenecks and gridlock at tunnel exit portals and where tollroads and freeways interface with local roads.

This is a given. Just as surely as night follows day.

By persevering with the radiating tollroad approach the Government hopes to achieve what no one anywhere else in the world has managed; that is, to build an interface with the local road network that doesn’t induce congestion.

Surely this has to be the classic definition of stupidity?

At least a dozen major cities in other parts of the world are tearing down their inner-city freeways and providing public transport alternatives, because they have finally come to realize that radial freeways just don’t work.

But not so in Sydney…

We’re going to spend nine times the cost of the Snowy Mountains Scheme in an attempt to prove the rest of the world wrong; that we can achieve the impossible.

Is it really wise to even contemplate building a tunnel under the harbour that, in the event of a breach, would see over 100 kilometres of tunnel traffic lanes under the Inner West and North Sydney instantly flooded?

The loss of life and the damage bill would be too horrendous to imagine…