The Australian and NSW Governments sent a shockwave through parts of Sydney with their announcement that the planning application for the new M5 tunnels as part of the second stage of WestConnex had been lodged.
The plans were rejected by both the Greens and Labor at all levels of Government. Residents of the effected areas were also outraged – some even receiving potential property acquisition notices from WestConnex officials.
The announcement revealed that the new M5 will run tunnels tall enough to allow large freight trucks to run from the existing East corridor to a new interchange at St Peters providing what is said to be better access to the airport and Port Botany.
This section will be completed and functional before the rest of the project.
A joint media release from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, NSW Premier Mike Baird, Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs, and NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay celebrated the announcement.
“The new tunnels will more than double the capacity of the M5 East, with the new M5 tunnels built to accommodate three lanes in each direction and provide another route for traffic from the airport, Port Botany and south Sydney precincts,” the release read.
The release was sent to the media hours after WestConnex officials were knocking on the doors of 80 St Peters’ residents to inform them that their homes were potentially being acquired for the construction.
The Mayor of Marrickville, Cr Mark Gardiner, was “extremely disturbed” by the announcement and the way in which the Government went about the process.
“To find out yesterday, after the fact, that WestConnex representatives were actually in the Marrickville Council area, door knocking residents and presenting them with ‘acquisition packs’ – well, I am not only astonished but also outraged on behalf of our constituents,” he said.
“While council accepts that Sydney has transport needs which WestConnex is seeking to address, we have had to continually lobby vigorously for any news at all about routes, entry and exit points, even where WestConnex was to above ground or below ground.”
Marrickville councilors were also concerned about the traffic implications in the precinct.
Cr Max Phillips called the expansion a “disaster for St Peters”.
“From the documents released, it appears that the M5 East will simply finish at Campbell Street, dumping its traffic load, until the rest of the WestConnex is built,” he said.
Labor candidate for Newtown and Shadow Minister for Transport, Penny Sharpe had similar fears when she reacted to the plan in a speech given to Parliament.
“The latest proposal for WestConnex is nothing more than a tunnel to a traffic jam – a traffic jam that has the potential to gridlock cars and trucks from the airport to Parramatta Road and every local street in between,” she said.
Ms. Sharpe said that the proposal had not been backed by proper traffic, or environmental analyses.
“If the Premier has ever spent any time in and around St Peters he would know these streets are already gridlocked. King Street, Unwins Bridge Road, May Street and Edgeware Road are already at capacity. There is simply no more room,” she said.
A separate media release from Mike Baird and Duncan Gay acknowledged that motorists are unsatisfied now, and announced that the program would be fast-tracked so that the M4 and M5 sections would be fully functional by 2019.
“Sydney motorists want relief from traffic congestion and the NSW Government is getting on with delivering the major infrastructure projects to make it happen,” the release read.
“The investment will support more than $125 billion of major construction activity across the country, ensuring we boost economic growth, create thousands of new jobs and slash travel times in our major cities for a more productive future.”
But many politicians have taken the opportunity to once again question the purpose of having a motorway at all, instead insisting a greater focus needs to be put into public transport.
NSW Member for Balmain, Jamie Parker said that a more obvious option was being overlooked.
“We can build on the success of the existing light rail extension and further expand light rail within the CBD, along Parramatta Road and to the Balmain Peninsula. This will dramatically reduce travel times, alleviate congestion and revitalize Parramatta Road.
Greens NSW MP and Spokesperson for Roads and Transport, Dr Mehreen Faruqi sees the WestConnex project as an example of backwards thinking.
“The announcement of the M5 tunnel duplication is yet more evidence of lack of vision in transport planning for Sydney, which places us decades behind the rest of the world who have stopped building these huge motorways that increase, not decrease congestion,” she said.