Here are some notes I wrote in 2015 on the Westconnex & the Western Harbour Tunnel and their political origins …
The 23rd of April 2014 was a good day for the voters of Manly, Curl Curl, Balgowlah, and Seaforth. On that Wednesday, their local member Mike Baird (1 April 1968) became the Premier of New South Wales. At the same time, the Prime Minister of Australia was their federal member Tony Abbott (4 November 1957). Mike Baird and Tony Abbot share more than their electors, they are also very similar men.
Both men are the sons of successful fathers from Northern Sydney. Both men attended Sydney’s elite private schools and then went onto the University of Sydney. Both men are devout Christians who considered a vocation, and both enjoy surfing. Both men are intelligent and rumoured to be quite charming in person. Both men were always political, and both joined the Liberal Party in NSW.
More importantly both men share the same staggering hubris and the willingness to use Captain’s Calls to override cabinet and good process to get what they really want. Tony Abbott however saw his poll numbers crash and his life’s dream halted by a party revolt. Meanwhile Mike Baird’s poll numbers are sky high and he sits pretty with the support of his party’s factions.
Why have such similar men had such different fates? Politics is a popularity contest. Sure, popularity favours the beautiful and ten years extra sun and surf have ravaged Tony’s looks, while Mike Baird remains young and fresh. But it goes deeper than that, Mike Baird has a smooth polish that allows him to be considered an amiable clean skin while Tony Abbott is considered an encumbered brawler.
Tony Abbott grew up in the 60s and 70s as the son of a respected dentist. Mike Baird grew up in the 70s and 80s the son of Bruce Baird: a trade commissioner, then a Member of State Parliament, then the Minister of Transport for the Greiner/Fahey Government, and always a noted Liberal party powerbroker.
The election of the coalition government in 2011, saw the beginning of a processes to determine the transport future for NSW, the Long-Term Transport Master Plan by Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian. Infrastructure NSW was created as an independent impartial assessor to match the similar federal authority. However, when Infrastructure NSW was given to former Liberal leader Nick Greiner, he decided to create a separate transport master plan. Greiner’s plan focused on toll-roads and he soon started briefing the Daily Telegraph on his vision. The self-described Father of Sydney’s Toll-Roads was using the media to out flank the Transport Minister.
In October 2012, with only a few diagrams and rough cost-estimate of $10.5 billion, Nick Greiner announced his Westconnex. It would be a glorious 33km project. It would widen the Parramatta to Homebush section of the M4 to generate lots of toll revenue then it would run in a slot through the beautiful new apartments surrounding what was Parramatta Road. Then on south east in a tunnel before surfacing to start the M6, and then back into a tunnel to widen the M5 from four lanes to ten.
After the former NSW premier [Nick Greiner] released his long-awaited strategy for the state, which calls for $30 billion worth of projects to be built over 20 years, the incumbent in Macquarie St, Barry O’Farrell “gave the green light” to West Connex, vowing he would get on with it by committing $1.8 billion in state government funding.
Federal Coalition leader Tony Abbott has already promised $1.5 billion if elected and federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday he would send it to Infrastructure Australia to see if federal Labor should contribute.New roads a fast track to the future, Andrew Clennell and Alicia Wood, The Daily Telegraph, October 04, 2012
Mr O’Farrell immediately supported the WestConnex project, but said a project team would be established within Roads and Maritime Services to determine its final details, including how it would be funded and built and its construction start date.
More details will be released around the time of the state budget in June. The Treasurer, Mike Baird, said Infrastructure NSW believed WestConnex could be built for $10 billion but it could cost as much as $13 billion. Mr Baird challenged the federal government to match a promise by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, to commit $1.5 billion to the WestConnex project.Goodbye Parramatta Road … hello mega tollway, Jacob Saulwick, Sean Nicholls, Sydney Morning Herald, October 04, 2012
A bold decisive move by Nick Greiner, Barry O’Farrell, Mike Baird and Tony Abbott to build the Westconnex. Meanwhile Anthony Albanese could only commit to having the project independently assessed by experts.
The NSW Government, through the WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA), engaged the Jacobs SKM-AECOM team to undertake the WestConnex traffic analysis study in support of the WestConnex Business Case (Sydney Motorways Project Office 2013a) process.
Stream 1 of the WRTM was a fully functional toll choice model of similar design to the final WRTM however some parameters were adopted from recent studies undertaken in Brisbane as suitable data was not yet available for Sydney. This approach provided a functional model for use in the preliminary Business Case than would otherwise have been possible in the available time. The Stream 1 model was commenced in January 2013 and completed in April 2013 in time for use in the preliminary Business Case. [Emphasis Added]WestConnex M4 Widening – Traffic and transport working paper, WestConnex Delivery Authority, August 2014
Tony Abbott also made a $1.5 billion commitment to the disgraced Victorian Liberal governments discredited East West Link. When asked he said “I mean, there are lots of things that I have not seen but I know, and I know that there is a business case for the East West Link. It says there is $1.40 worth of benefit for every $1 of spending.” When that business case was later released it showed that the project would only deliver 45c of benefit for every dollar spent and the Victorian Government and their roads department had used a non-standard set of measurements.
Meanwhile the now Premier Mike Baird keeps the Westconnex Business Case a closely guarded secret. Taxpayers have been left wondering if the benefits for the Westconnex have been over-estimated and over-stated just like the East West Link.
Taxpayers are right to be concerned because Grainer’s plan quickly started to fall apart, and his original ‘design’ has since been discarded. The half dozen subsequent designs were also discarded as the government struggled to make it technically and financially feasible.
The first major problem was that Greiner had not followed the road’s departments plan. The NSW roads department had a plan for these series of motorways, a plan developed over decades and implemented piece by piece as ministers and governments changed and thus so did the fortunes of the opposition’s safe seats.
The roads department’s plan for the M4 East was for a long tunnel to Rozelle Goods Yards and the Anzac Bridge (2003 & 2010 proposals). Tunnels would connect with the planned Lane Cove Valley Expressway (part of the North Western Expressway) under Balmain, Drummoyne, Gladesville and then connecting to the M2 at North Ryde (2104 proposal). The roads department has so far managed to build just one section of this road around the Gladesville Bridge which opened in 1964. Another toll-road tunnel would connect the Rozelle Goods Yards to the F6 reservation at Sydney Park.
The roads department still plans to run the F6 on the surface through that reservation from St Peters to Waterfall (2012 proposal). The roads department always planned to expand the M5 South Western Motorway from the four lanes that were built. The department’s 2008 proposal was for another 3-lane tunnel making it seven lanes. Nick Greiner added another 3-lane tunnel for good measure and now Westconnex will Kingsgrove to Arncliffe a ten lane mega-toll-road.
In 2012 Infrastructure NSW referred to the Lane Cove Valley Expressway and the Northern Beaches Link.
This conceptual option proposes a motorway from the airport to the Victoria Road corridor, with a potential extension North to the M2. The road would form a Western bypass of the CBD to relieve pressure on the harbour crossings.
This road would link the Gore Hill Freeway with the Burnt Bridge Creek Deviation via a tunnel under Mosman and a new bridge over the Spit. It could be combined with a transitway for buses from the Northern Beaches to the CBD.
Infrastructure NSW has concluded that Northern Beaches Link is a lower priority for Government funding support because of the lower traffic volumes, the lack of through traffic, limited population growth on the Peninsula and the limited role of Military Road in the freight distribution network.
That was not the end of it. By 2014 all the old-guard had quit Infrastructure NSW and now it answered to the new Premier Mike Baird – the Member for Manly. Things change and the North South Motorway was moved. It would no longer connect the M2 at Ryde it would instead connect the M1 at Neutral Bay. There the second harbour crossing could conveniently connect to the sudden new priority – the Beaches Link.
No longer would the voters of manly be a low priority suddenly there was a recommendation from the apparently independent Infrastructure NSW “Infrastructure NSW recommends that Transport for NSW undertake further review and development of Beaches Link, with a view to a potential investment being made over a 10 to 20 year timeframe.”
Now the denizens of Balgowlah can travel to Blacktown uninterrupted motorway for a pleasant change of scenery. No one has confirmed if those denizens have realised that the reverse is also true for those living in Blacktown.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says NSW motorists will soon be “singing in their cars” as he appeared alongside NSW Premier Mike Baird for the first time in the state election campaign to tout the imminent start of construction on the WestConnex motorway.
Mr Abbott, along with Mr Baird, federal Treasurer Joe Hockey and NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay, gathered with motorway executives and local MPs at Granville on Sunday morning to promote the infrastructure projects a re-elected state coalition says it would build.
“Every day motorists will be rejoicing,” Mr Abbott said at the event.
“They will be rejoicing, they will be singing in their cars, frankly, because their cars will be moving,” he said.Tony Abbott and Mike Baird turn first sods for WestConnex, Jacob Saulwick, Sydney Morning Herald, March 8, 2015