Part 3 Chris Standen : Forty reasons why Westconnex fails to meet objectives

(Ed.: This is part three of a submission to the New M5 EIS process by Chris Standen, a transport modeller and specialist. Read Part One and Two.) 

Westconnex has key objectives that the whole project is supposed to meet.

The stated objectives for the project were contrived to fit the project after it had already been announced. In a democratic strategic planning process, objectives are set first based on the needs and desires of the community, and then alternative projects/policies are appraised against their ability to meet those objectives.

Westconnex’s stated objectives have no associated targets by which their achievement can be ever be determined. For example, how can it ever be determined if the objective to “maintain regional air quality” has been met?

Objectives/targets need to be:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-bound

Even though the objectives of Westconnex have been contrived to fit the project, the project still does not meet them.

Each objective below is accompanied by an explanation of why the project does NOT meet that objective. ( Ed: We counted them and there are 40) 

  1. Support Sydney’s long-term economic growth through improved motorway access and connections linking Sydney’s international gateways and south-western Sydney and places of business across the city. 
  • There is already an extensive and high–capacity road and motorway network linking Sydney’s international gateways (Sydney Airport and Port Botany), Western Sydney and places of business across the city. The operation of this network could be improved significantly with demand management such as road pricing reform. There is no need for costly and destructive new motorways.
  • The most efficient and economical way to link large trip generators is with mass transit. A single motorway lane can transport only 2000 passengers per hour, under ideal conditions. A single railway line can transport 20,000 passengers per hour.

2. Relieve road congestion to improve the speed, reliability and safety of travel in the M5 Motorway corridor.

  • There is no evidence that increasing road capacity and building urban motorways can relieve road congestion in the long term, because the added capacity simply induces more demand.
  • As travel speeds increase, so do travel distances, i.e., increasing the speed of the road network encourages urban sprawl. Perversely, this sprawl has the effect of reducing the population’s accessibility to employment, education and services, and increasing transport costs (because people have to travel longer distances.
  • Road congestion is inevitable in any large city, in the absence of adequate demand management. There can never be enough road capacity to satisfy the latent demand for driving, where everyone can live as far from work as they like, and drive whenever they like, to wherever they like in free flowing traffic. It is geometrically impossible.
  • Congestion on Sydney’s roads is the main thing keeping private vehicle travel demand in check. If this congestion is relieved temporarily by increasing the road supply, then demand will increase until a new equilibrium between supply and demand is reached (i.e., congestion will return to its previous level)
  • A better objective would be to give as many people as possible a reasonable alternative to sitting in traffic. How many people would really prefer to spend hours each week crawling along a dark tunnel inhaling truck fumes, than sitting in a modern train that takes them swiftly to their destination, where they can use the time to relax, read, work etc.
  • A claimed benefit of the project is that daily traffic on the existing M5 East would reduce by 20-40 percent due to the new tolls. If it is acknowledged that tolls alone are effective in meeting the project objective (reducing congestion), then there is no rationale for adding more capacity.
  • More intersections in the study area will have an LOS of F with the project (4) than without it (3) in 2021.

3. Cater for the diverse travel demands along these corridors that are best met by road infrastructure.

There is already more than sufficient capacity along these corridors to cater for all the essential vehicle travel. Non-essential vehicle travel could be discouraged through better demand management, e.g., road pricing reform.

4. Enhance the productivity of commercial and freight generating land uses strategically located near transport infrastructure. 

  • This objective could be more easily and more economically achieved by improving the operation of the existing road network with demand management, e.g., road pricing reform.
  • It has to be questioned whether a highly populated inner city area is the optimal location for some commercial and freight generating land uses. Could some of them be relocated to less populated areas, where the transport costs and externalities are lower?

5. Fit within the financial capacity of the State and Federal Governments, in partnership with the private sector.

The project has a high financial risk. The flaws and optimistic assumptions in the traffic modelling mean that toll revenue is likely to be significantly lower than forecast. AECOM has a history of providing over-optimistic traffic forecasts for toll roads, resulting in previous financial failures (e.g., Clem7).

6. Optimise user pays contributions to support funding in an affordable and equitable way.

  • More than 99% of the NSW population will not use the project each day, but they will still have to pay for it through general taxation.
  • Many of the potential users will be from low-income households who cannot afford to live near employment centres or railway stations. They will have to pay high tolls while higher-income households have access to cheaper roads and public transport. This is hardly equitable.

7. Provide for integration with other WestConnex projects and the proposed Southern extension, while not significantly impacting on the surrounding environment in the interim period

  • There will be significant impacts on the surrounding environment.
  • There is a high risk that future stages of the WestConnex scheme will never go ahead, due to the likely financial failure of the preceding stages.

8. Manage tunnel ventilation emissions to ensure local air quality meets NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) standards

  • The emissions from the exhaust stacks and tunnel portals will not be filtered.
  • Local air quality near the project is already poor, with air toxin levels regularly exceeding standards. Even when they do not exceed standards, they still cause health problems. There is no safe level of air pollution.
  • The project will result in poorer local air quality. The air quality modelling in the EIS is worthless because it is based on flawed traffic modelling.

9. Maintain regional air quality

  • Regional air quality in Sydney is already poor, with air toxin levels regularly exceeding standards. Even when they do not exceed standards, they still cause health problems. There is no safe level of air pollution.
  • The project will result in poorer regional air quality. The air quality modelling in the EIS is unreliable because it is based on flawed traffic modelling.

10. Manage in-tunnel air quality to stringent air quality standards

The in-tunnel air quality will be poorer than that for surface roads. People using the tunnels on a regular basis will have a higher risk of lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and other diseases. The health of children being driven through the tunnels is a particular concern.

11. Minimise energy use during construction and operation

  • Roads are one of most energy-intensive ways of moving people and freight. Road construction is also energy-intensive.
  • The project will encourage longer travel distances (sprawl), which will result in increased transport energy use.
  • The project will encourage travellers to switch from energy-efficient public transport to energy-inefficient private vehicles.
  • Transport energy use could be better minimised by:
    1. Providing for energy-efficient transport modes (public transport, walking, bicycling).

    2. Land use planning that places homes closer to employment and other destinations.

12. Manage noise impacts in accordance with the NSW Road Noise Policy and realise opportunities to reduce or mitigate noise 

  • Traffic volumes on surface roads will increase, resulting in increased noise pollution.

13. Provide for improvement of social and visual amenity

  • The project will reduce social and visual amenity.
    1. The concrete interchanges and pollution stacks will be visually obtrusive.
    2. The increased traffic volumes on surface roads will result in lower amenity (more noise pollution, more fear and intimation, increased crash risk etc.).

    3.  The increase in petrochemical exhaust emissions from the tunnel portals, pollution stacks and surface roads             will result in increased smog and reduced visibility and air quality.

14. Minimise impacts on natural systems including biodiversity

  • The project will cause irreversible biodiversity loss.
  • The project will contribute to climate change through increased greenhouse gas emissions. This will result in further biodiversity loss and damage to natural systems.

15. Protect surface and groundwater sources and water quality including management of contaminated areas

  • The project will result in increased VKT ( Vehicle Kilometres Travelled) , and therefore more contaminants (brake and clutch dust, hydrocarbon particulates etc.) being deposited on roadways and washed into waterways.

16. Reduce susceptibility to, and minimise impacts of, flooding

  • The project will contribute to climate change through increased greenhouse gas emissions. This will increase the risk of flooding and other extreme weather events, not just in Sydney, but worldwide.

17.  Integrate sustainability considerations throughout the design, construction and operation of the project, including consideration of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) Sustainability Rating tool scorecard

  • The project is not a sustainable development.
    1. Not economically sustainable. The costs far outweigh the productivity benefits.
    2. Not socially sustainable. It will destroy and sever communities, and result in poorer public health, more car dependency, more transport inequity, and more social isolation.

    3.  Not environmentally sustainable. It will result in higher greenhouse gas emissions and irreversible biodiversity loss.

Also read 

This Sydney Morning Herald  comment piece by Chris Standen also focuses on Westconnex’s failure to meet objectives and how that issue is linked to investment decisions

City of Sydney report finds  Westconnex will not meet its core objectives

Sydney Trains graphic (1)



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