WestConnex is a motorway scheme currently in the early stages of construction in Sydney, Australia. The scheme, a joint project of the New South Wales and Australian governments, encompasses widening and extension of the M4 Western Motorway, a new section for the M5 South Western Motorway, and a new bypass of the Sydney CBD connecting the M4 and M5. Together, these projects would build or upgrade some 33 kilometres to the Sydney motorway network. The total cost of WestConnex is estimated at $15 billion; the final stage, the M4–M5 link, is expected to be completed by 2023.[1] Described as “the biggest transport project in Sydney since the Harbour Bridge” and costing “in current dollars, double the Snowy River scheme”, the project has been the subject of much debate.


The first comprehensive plan for Sydney motorways, the Cumberland County Plan, was released by the then county council in 1948 and adopted in 1951 by the NSW Government. The Plan envisaged a radial motorway network centred on Sydney’s central business district (CBD). Though construction of the roads progressed slowly – by 1971 only isolated sections were complete – the Plan ensured corridors were reserved, providing property owners with certainty about future infrastructure.[2]

This changed in 1976 with the election of the Australian Labor Party under Premier Neville Wran. Wran, faced with his predecessors’ ambitious infrastructure plans, inner-city opposition to motorway projects (including a powerful ‘Green Bans’ movement) and a deteriorating financial situation, halted work on inner-city projects, scaled back the under-construction Eastern Suburbs railway line and eliminated a number of the Cumberland Plan’s inner-city road reservations.

Though Wran’s decision to sell off the M4 East corridor was later criticised,[3] the Cumberland Plan’s radial concept was anyway beginning to lose relevance. The city’s passenger and freight gateway had shifted 14 kilometres south of the CBD, with long-distance passengers increasingly arriving via Sydney Airport, not Circular Quay or Central Station; and Port Botany increasingly supplanting Sydney Harbour as the city’s main shipping hub. At the same time, employment was decentralising. Retailers were clustering in new suburban shopping malls; factories were moving to less constrained greenfield sites in the outer suburbs; and many companies were moving to suburban campus-style office parks.[2]

In 1987, the then Department of Main Roads released Roads 2000, which shifted the focus of motorway planning from completing the CBD-centric radial system and addressed the growing number of cross-suburban vehicle journeys instead.[4] The Western Motorway, now known as the M4, was completed from the Blue Mountains to Concord in 1992.[5] The South-Western motorway, known as the M5, reached from Prestons to Beverly Hills by 1995.[6]

The unfinished M5 East section of the orbital, between Beverly Hills and the airport, remained contentious. Although a surface corridor had been reserved for much of the route, the government of Bob Carr was anxious to minimise the surface impact. After last-minute revisions to the design, the resulting motorway, opened in 2001, was too steep for laden trucks returning from Port Botany, significantly increasing vehicle emissions and frequently overwhelming the ventilation system.[7] Options for the M4 East were exhibited in 2003, but the government was divided over the proposal and ultimately did not proceed with it.[8]

‘First things first’ strategy

Elected in 2011 on a promise to create an integrated transport strategy for the city, the Liberal-led government of Premier Barry O’Farrell established an independent advisory body, led by former premierNick Greiner, to assess projects and determine priorities. Greiner’s Infrastructure NSW (iNSW) evaluated a number of long-standing motorway proposals, including the M4 East, the F6 extension and theM2-F3 link. iNSW released its strategy, entitled First Things First, the following year. The plan identified a 33-kilometre motorway scheme, which it named “WestConnex”, as the state’s top road priority. The creation of WestConnex was one of the major points of agreement between two competing strategic transport reports, commissioned simultaneously in 2011 by the NSW Government, from iNSW and Transport for NSW.[9] O’Farrell accepted the recommendation, committing $1.8 billion to begin work.

The initial scheme called for:

  • widening of the existing M4 between Parramatta and Homebush
  • an M4 East tunnel from Concord to Haberfield
  • a new “M4 South” tunnel from Haberfield to St Peters, near Port Botany and the airport
  • widening of the existing M5 East
  • improvements to surface roads around the port and airport.[10]

The M4 South component would provide the first step towards an inner-city bypass. Transport for New South Wales, which released its long-term integrated transport plan around the same time, committed to further planning work on the northern section of the bypass. iNSW estimated the benefit-cost ratio for WestConnex at “more than 1.5”, noting that the removal of freight traffic fromParramatta Road could also facilitate urban regeneration along the Inner West’s main road link.[10]

Focused as it was on journeys to and from the international gateways at Botany Bay, the scheme did not include a direct connection to the CBD. This proved a stumbling block in securing federal funding for the project, despite the risk of a motorway direct to the city competing with existing public transport services.[11][12] With a change of government in 2013, Canberra’s opposition was reversed.[13]

Later modifications

The scheme underwent a number of changes from the concept recommended by iNSW in 2012. In particular, the government realigned the proposed M4 South to accommodate a link to a future second harbour road tunnel, with a view to one day completing the inner-city bypass.

source from From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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