The NSW government’s preferred slot option for the M4 East portion of the WestConnex freeway is set to be abandoned following the revelation that it would be more expensive than the tunnel option rather than cheaper as initially believed. The news was first rumoured by Nine News reporter Kevin Wilde in late March, then confirmed by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jake Saulwick earlier today.
Tunnels for the M4 East back on the agenda.—
(@KevinWilde) March 28, 2013
The change will increase the construction costs by billions of dollars and is reminiscent of the $500m that were lost when the Rozelle Metro was abandoned in part because the then Labor Government did not do sufficient planning prior to beginning the project. Premier Barry O’Farrell had promised not to repeat this mistake, yet this is exactly what has happened in both here and with the North West Rail Link. In both cases, the government committed to something before doing its homework on it, and then had to go back on their previous announcement once public servants demonstrated that prior promises were not the ideal option to take.
These revelations raise additional questions over the viability of WestConnex. Some of these concerns, as well as some good history on the general topic, were covered by EcoTransit in a recent video. While I have questioned some of the conclusions made by EcoTransit in the past, this video is one whose broad message I am generally in agreeance with, and is worth viewing.
Meanwhile, this week the state government also announced the $5bn sale of the Ports of Botany and Kembla, by way of a 99 year lease, thus locking in the funding it needed for a number of road improvements – chief among them being the $1.8bn it had promised for WestConnex. This price is much higher than the $3bn initially expected, and key to this was the abolition of the container movement cap of 3.2m TEU. In order to facilitate this, the government is effectively locking itself in to freight transport improvements around these ports that will allow for an increase in container movements. In effect, the government inflated the value of the port assets by committing to invest in the surrounding infrastructure with the money raised, a win-win situation.
In the case of Port Botany, that means building WestConnex. This is in addition to the political imperative to build WestConnex, so as not to be seen to be a government that announces infrastructure projects and then abandons them – something which contributed to the defeat of Mr O’Farrell’s predecessor.
And so we find ourselves with a state government that has painted itself into a corner – it must build WestConnex. Yet it has done so before all the planning work on it is complete. That is not to say that the numbers do not stack up in favour of WestConnex, we won’t know until all the planning is done. But the government should have done the planning first and made a decision second, not jump the gun to announce its support for it. Instead, we will now get a new road whether we need it or not.