OPINION: Westconnex – Money up in smoke?

By Brent Heber

Residents of Kingsgrove are rightly dismayed, much as Turrella residents were in 1997, to find their suburb will be the next St George site for an unfiltered exhaust stack from yet another motorway soon to be filled with traffic. The Turrella stack was switched off back in 2012 when Duncan Gay claimed it wasn’t providing value for money and data showed it was only reducing pollution in the area by 16% in exchange for its close to a billion dollar yearly running cost. That is indeed a poorly run project.

CSIRO expert Mark Curran has stated that at international rates, for $30million, electrostatic filtration could be fitted throughout the new Westconnex project but Duncan Gay repeatedly says filtration is not needed, perhaps still having nightmares about the bills from the last time he gave it a go – but what about peace of mind for residents? If the filtration is planned for and installed during construction, costs and efficiencies will obviously be much better than adding a solution ad hoc at a latter stage to an already completed project – the time to listen to residents is now if our budget and residents are to be treated fairly.

Another problem with Duncan’s position is that in all studies into pollution by the RTA (and their well paid consultants) used to justify their anti-filtration stance, particle sizes much larger than those emitted by exhaust are typically measured – dust particles rather than small particulate matter typically associated with exhaust fumes (that are known to be detrimental to our health). Asthma and other lung conditions are clearly linked with exposure to exhaust fumes but the disconnect in particle sizes measured by the RTA versus those measured by health professionals and scientists gives the Liberal party a convenient “out”.

To put the figures in perspective, the cost overruns currently projected on the M5 East duplication are sitting at $500mil – the original cost was budgeted around $6bil now it’s $6.5bil and no one bats an eyelid. Remember we have been waiting for St George Hospital to be rebuilt for how long? A brand new metropolitan hospital is going to cost us $300mil and the blow out on the M5 East duplication is nearly twice that! I’m pretty sure there are 2 regional towns in NSW who would appreciate a new hospital rather than sydney getting more gridlock!

Filtration could cost as little at $30mil. To put that in perspective the Arncliffe pedestrian and cycle tunnel was originally specced between $7-10mil by Rockdale council. Duncan and John Flowers upped the budget to a tidier $17mil and it’s now it’s blown out to $24mil. A 10m tunnel for $24mil vs filtering the M5 East at $30mil? Filtration as cost of the project, $30mil in a $6.5billion project, less than half a percent of the capital outlay – and Duncan keeps fighting it? Why not put the residents minds at ease? Isn’t that his job?

The only way NSW is going to get better outcomes is if voters wake up and start voting based on policies they support and start paying attention to the agenda of the old parties. More poorly planned privatised roads built to line the pockets of construction company executives and shareholders will not solve Sydney’s congestion, only properly integrated mass transit has a hope of being a cost effective solution.

*Opinions expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NSW Greens or St George Greens.

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