Motorways won't solve Sydney traffic problems

Premier Mike Baird is going to the March election with an enormous, albeit hypothetical, treasure chest. Electricity asset sales are in his sights and a one-off $20 billion cheque almost in his grasp.

 

A failure to roll out essential infrastructure has been the greatest drain on this state's potential, so getting the state moving is, rightly, the priority.

With the Federal Government taking 82 per cent of Australia's tax revenue, asset sales are a last resort for State Governments who need to fund infrastructure for transport, education and health.

Assets can't be sold twice, so the opportunity to spend this one-off $20 billion lump sum wisely won't come around again.

Decisions about what infrastructure to build and where to build it must flow from a coherent, publicly-accepted plan. Housing development, transport, education, health and jobs need to be considered together in a transparent process based on credible evidence, good planning and an eye to the long term.

This kind of integrated approach is exactly what the State Government can deliver through a new Metropolitan Strategy. At the end of the Government's term in office we are still waiting to see such a strategy. Without it in place, important and costly decisions are being made without context or consultation.

Sydney is chronically short of transport infrastructure. For too long both major parties have focused more on announcements than achievements.

Some of the projects on the Government's current wish list should have been done a decade ago, so we are desperately playing catch up. A second Harbour crossing for heavy rail and an expansion of the light rail network are top priorities to unclog our congested city centre.

We must prioritise infrastructure in areas of significant urban renewal - the places where local governments are trying to accommodate the State Government's targets to boost housing.

Green Square, just 4 kms from the city centre, is Australia's largest urban renewal area. It will grow to be a home for 54,000 people and 20,000 jobs by 2030, but public transport and roads are already at capacity.

Extending light rail to the area should be a priority project for the State Government, but it doesn't even rate a mention.

Baird's loudest boast seems to be the gargantuan WestConnex project. The city is crippled by congestion, but this proposed motorway will disgorge people straight into the Green Square area and onto existing residential streets and roads that already struggle to cope with the current number of vehicles. King Street, Newtown, risks becoming another Parramatta Road. Sydney Park, one of the region's most popular green open spaces, will be reduced and isolated.

WestConnex has been spruiked as a freight solution for Sydney's airport and seaport, but the proposed project does not actually connect to either of them.

The research and modelling to support WestConnex is being kept secret. Important details including the Review of Environmental Factors will only be revealed after a contract has been signed. This is dictation, not consultation.

The assets that are being sold belong to us, as does the resulting revenue, so we should be fully informed about how the money is spent.

Transport infrastructure can only be properly understood and assessed in the context of an accepted, integrated plan for greater Sydney. There is currently no such plan.

One-off road projects like WestConnex are based on 1960's thinking. Some of today's politicians might think is a good idea, but it is not the way to plan for the long term success of our city.

Sydney's future prosperity and liveability will be determined by how we plan for and build infrastructure. Let's make sure we're doing it right.

(This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday 27 November 2014)

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