My position on the WestConnex motorway

A speech delivered by Max Phillips, Greens candidate for Summer Hill at a WestConnex meet the candidates public meeting at St David’s Church Haberfield, 19 November 2014

The Greens have a long proud history of opposing the WestConnex motorway in all its various guises.

It was first referred to as the Marrickville Truck Tunnel in the early 2000’s by former Labor Mayor of Marrickville Barry Cotter. The Greens opposed it then. It re-emerged during the Carr and Iemma years, as the M4 East and the M5 East, and the Greens opposed it then. And the Greens unequivocally oppose the WestConnex motorway now.
Building more roads to relieve traffic congestion is a superficially attractive proposition.

However, experience in Australia and overseas shows that it simply does not work. The more you build new roads or expand existing roads, the more cars you attract. That’s not me just making it up.

An academic study by Duranton and Turner, entitled “The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities”, found that vehicle kilometres travelled was in lock-step with increased road capacity. They conclude that an increased provision of roads is unlikely to relieve congestion.

I have visited US cities where urban planning has gone off the rails; cities such as Dallas Fort-Worth have been built around the motorway. Motorways absolutely destroy the fabric of a city and tie people closely to their cars. Many smart cities are now dismantling motorways to breath new life into urban areas. It seems crazy for Sydney to build a new motorway through the densely populated Inner West – with the associated health impacts from exhaust stacks, the loss of housing through acquisition, and of course, the extra traffic dumped on local roads.

There are ways to reduce traffic congestion.

We should be investing in public transport. If we put money into public transport to improve frequency, improve accessibility by installing lifts at stations, creating new routes and services, create interconnections between the current hub and spoke routes, then people will get out of their cars and use public transport. The Greens support moving the funds allocated to WestConnex, to public transport.

The other proven way to reduce congestion is to put a price signal on traffic congestion – a congestion charge. In cities such as London, Singapore, Milan and Stockholm, a congestion charge has led to a significant decrease in traffic congestion. In Stockholm, they achieved a 20% drop in traffic congestion after implementing a congestion charge.

A congestion charge can also raise funds to go into public transport and is widely supported by transport academics and economists. It is also supported by social justice organisations such as the NSW Council of Social Services. The Sydney Harbour Bridge already has variable time-of-day charging. While the train system effectively has a congestion charge with higher fares during peak times. Why should people contributing to traffic congestion not pay for the negative externalities they are causing, particularly if it will make the existing road infrastructure run more efficiently and negate the need for more motorways?

While a congestion charge is a controversial idea, I believe that Sydney needs to have a discussion about using congestion charging and investment in public transport, rather than building the WestConnex motorway. To that effect, I have brought a motion to Marrickville Council to support a congestion charge as an alternative to WestConnex.

I am also concerned about the urban development planned in conjunction with the WestConnex motorway. Developers all over Sydney are licking their lips at the prospect of high rise development along Parramatta Road. But I do not think existing infrastructure will cope with such development. Local roads will not cope and cannot be expanded. There is already a shortage of childcare facilities and school places. A new motorway will not solve these problems. Such development will also fundamentally change the character of our existing neighbourhoods.

While Labor might say they are opposed to WestConnex locally or ‘in its current form’, at a broader level they will support the project

On the 4th of November, Shadow Roads Minister Michael Daley was on 2UE radio chastising the government for not going fast enough with delivering WestConnex.

The Greens have been actively supporting the community in opposing the WestConnex motorway. On Marrickville Council the Greens have always strongly opposed the WestConnex motorway, even when other councillors vacillated. In the NSW Parliament we have been trying to pry open the secrecy around the WestConnex project by using the powers of the parliament to obtain documents.

If elected as the Member of Summer Hill, you can be assured that I would continue to be a fierce opponent of WestConnex and pursue smarter solutions to traffic congestion.

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