This morning I received a letter from the federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure, Jamie Briggs, encouraging me to support the NSW Government's WestConnex project.
The letter was reported on today by the Daily Telegraph. Sadly neither is able to support their arguments with evidence.
The NSW Government is yet to release a business case, traffic modelling, or Environmental Impact Statements for the $15 billion project. If WestConnex is as good as its supporters claim, then the State Government should release the research with shows how this multi-billion dollar project will reduce congestion and commuting times.
The documents that do exist are clearly inadequate and out of date.
The WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary was prepared in 2013; since then there have been significant changes to the project alignment and its cost has risen by $4 billion. This document also predates significant changes in Government policy, in particular the decision to build a 24 hour international airport at Badgerys Creek. No update has been released.
Independent bodies have also raised concerns.
Infrastructure Australia's six-page assessment of WestConnex identifies deficiencies in both the modelling and costing methodologies used by the NSW Government.
The NSW Auditor General's report found a number of shortcomings with the governance of the WestConnex project and the processes applied to WestConnex to provide independent assurance to Government did not meet best practice standards.
There have been plenty of misleading claims about WestConnex. Here are the facts:
Claim #1. WestConnex will lead to the revitalisation of Parramatta Road
The independent research commissioned by the City of Sydney from SGS contradicts the claims in the Minster Brigg's letter and the Daily Telegraph's article. Far from freeing up Parramatta Road, congestion will increase by over 20 per cent when tolls are reintroduced on the M4. The environmental assessment of the widening of the M4 prepared for the WestConnex Delivery Authority in late 2014 came to a similar conclusion. That is a disaster for Sydney, particularly western Sydney.
Claim #2. WestConnex will improve work commute times for Western Sydney residents
WestConnex will divert funding from public transport which is used by most Western Sydney residents who travel to the east for work. WestConnex is also inconsistent with the Government's own Metropolitan Strategy which plans for a decentralised city which creates jobs and transport links in Sydney's west.
Claim #3. Without WestConnex NSW will be denied $20 billion in economic benefits and 10,000 construction jobs
Quite clearly this level of Government investment could be redirected to achieve similar - or greater - levels of economic return. Diverting WestConnex funding to public transport, rail freight improvements and the development of Badgerys Creek airport would also bring jobs and support Sydney's long term economic future.
The public deserves a detailed explanation about why this massive project is needed and how the costs can be justified. With the only publicly-available information warning that WestConnex will be ineffective and waste money that could be spent on real transport solutions, it is no wonder that opposition to it is growing.