By Denis Bright
Media coverage of the traffic chaos in Sydney’s Inner West associated with the opening of the Rozelle Interchange on 26 November 2023 has faded into transport history. WestConnex now offers 33 kilometres of new road tunnels and improved motorway connections. The total estimated cost is at least $20 billion according to estimates from journalist Elias Visonytay at The Guardian (24 November 2023).
As the exclusive operator of WestConnex, Transurban boasts of its commitment to equitable tollways and environmental sustainability. These changes may enable the motorway networks to reach net-zero on 2005 emission levels by 2050. The use of electric vehicles will assist in emission reduction. Any increases in motorized traffic might balance some of these positive improvements.
Traditionally, NSW Governments have managed both toll collection and commitment to public transport. This was the case with Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Harbour Tunnel between 1994-2015. Initially, public transport patronage of the Harbour Bridge probably exceeded car traffic through the addition of tram tracks and electrified train lines adjacent to the road networks.
After an initial slow start, post-1945 NSW state governments added the Cahill Expressway in 1958. Quite a network of tolled motorways has been added by 1994 when the Sydney Harbour Tunnel became fully operational.
Interest in the social impact of tunnelling operations near Sydney is not just a contemporary concern. The rail tunnelling project at Lapstone Tunnel in the Lower Blue Mountains at Glenbrook attracted the iconic artist Arthur Stretton (1867-1943) in 1891. His interest in the scenery was diverted by a construction accident which took the life of a young worker. (Image: Art Gallery NSW).
This painting showed the body of Edward Brown being carried out of the Lapstone Tunnel by respectful workers. The construction workers stopped work for the remainder of the day to honour their deceased colleague.
These were difficult times for Colonial Australia during the global depression of the early 1890s. Unemployment reached around 25 per cent of the workforce. Recovery of employment was a real priority to justify environmental shortcuts.
Arthur Stretton also ventured into environmental politics in 1893. He wrote to The Daily Telegraph on 9 December 1893 to oppose the mining of a coal seam at Cremorne Point which threatened the ambiance of the harbour views that he often covered in his paintings.
The restless modernism of Australia’s mega-city has allowed vast tollway networks to crisscross Sydney.
Maintaining affordable public transit fares for concession-holders was a key factor in quietening public opposition to all this motorway construction and tunnelling. Opal fares are capped at a total of $2.50 a day for seniors on all modes of public transport. There is a cap of fifty dollars a week on all other adult OPAL travel transits.
Perhaps the greatest planning injustices in Greater Sydney are from the transformation of many inner suburbs through gentrification.
Historical gems like this four-bedroom terrace house in Redfern sold for $2.3 million in November 2023 (Image: Ray White).
Fortunately, rents in the inner-city still vary considerably. Some rentals are still below $800 per week.
With 5.5 million residents in Greater Sydney, it is impossible to fit this population into the most convenient locations in Sydney’s inner-suburbs.
Reenacting Arthur Streeton’s explorations in 1891, it is possible to join the M7 near Glenbrook and travel to Sydney’s CBD without the interruptions caused by traffic lights on conventional roads. Toll fees are now capped at $11.78 for use of multiple motorways by Class A vehicles. This was a commendable initiative by the Minns Government which seems destined to becoming a long-serving NSW government in the old traditions of post-1945 state governments.
Transurban has obviously made confidential arrangements with the ATO to minimize its own company tax payments as noted by ABC News (8 November 2023):
As with other privatization efforts by conservative governments, new tollways and charges by corporate providers do not benefit consumers. Transurban operates on the world stage. Australia has become a hub of its global operations. Details of Transurban’s operations worldwide are available in the 2023 Annual Report. The financial statement within the Annual Report showed that Transurban declared a global loss of $295 million on its revenue base of $4.2 billion. The renumeration of Transurban’s seven directors was not overlooked with a combined provision of a notch under $15 million.
The impact of motorways and tunnelling on carbon emissions in Sydney is still not in the public domain.
Recent data from the Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) provides an update on carbon emissions from all forms of energy use across Australia. Motorized transport emissions are not expected to decline in the late 2020s. Greater use of electric vehicles and application of other energy saving technology might improve this situation. These are national estimates, Details of the local situation in Greater Sydney are not available from DECCEW data.
Readers are welcome to offer feedback on their experiences with the new motorways in Sydney and other locations in the contemporary quest for greater environmental sustainability and protection of scenic ambiance. At Cremorne Point, Arthur Streeton recorded the steam ferry as it made its way across Sydney Harbour on payment of the fare of one penny. Here is the scene today much more than a century later (Image: realestate.com.au):
Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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