The NSW Department of Planning and Environment received more than 12,000 submissions from members of the the public and community organisations in response to the WestCONnex New M5 tollway proposal. 99.91% of these submissions objected to the project. The People’s M5 EIS team could only find one submission that supported the project. Ten submissions raised concerns rather than outright objecting to the New M5.
Hundreds of residents living in the Kingsgrove and Beverly Hills area were among those opposed to the project.
Many of these residents have been living near the old M5 for 15 years. They know from experience that living near a motorway is nothing like the glossy images produced by the WestCONnex graphics team. If the New M5 goes ahead, 0thers would live close to a new unfiltered ventilation stack and tunnel opening proposed at Kingsgrove; or near the Beverly Grove Park that is going to be carved up by WestCONnex, along with most of a critically endangered remnant of Cooks River Ironbark Forest.
There are many more residents living along Stoney Creek, Forest and Bexley Roads who don’t know yet that if the new tollway goes ahead the plan is for their environment to be more congested and more polluted. This is documented in AECOM’s New M5 EIS although most residents have not yet been informed of these impacts. ( We will come back to this in a later post.)
What most people don’t know is that WestCONnex has already been given approval by the NSW Baird government to begin widening the intersection at King Georges Road and the existing M5. This project, which is known as the King Georges Interchange Upgrade, is massively disrupting the lives of residents, some of whom have watched with dismay as vegetation and parks that slowly grew after the M5 sliced up their neighbourhood are torn down by WestCONnex.
The King Georges Interchange project doesn’t make the WestCONnex’s Stage 2 New M5 tunnel inevitable but what it does do is provide an excellent place to start if you want to understand some of the key arguments against the WestCONnex. It also provides a strong warning against trusting promises by Sydney Motorway Corporation (WestCONnex) or the Department of Planning of future mitigation of the worst impacts of motorways.
NSW Premier Mike Baird recently told the Sydney Morning Herald that some “displacement” and “loss of green space” is an unfortunate consequence of building ‘infrastructure” to cater for future growth …otherwise the city will come to a halt.”
The problem with Baird’s argument is that there is lots of evidence that the WestCONnex won’t solve traffic congestion. Yes, residents would suffer both during the construction and operation of WestCONnex, but no, traffic congestion will not be solved. In some suburbs it will be worse.
You will notice that Baird also made no mention of the consequences of increased air pollution and noise for those living near congested roads.
Westconnex will not solve traffic congestion in South West Sydney
Parts of King Georges road are among the most congested spots in Sydney and you can certainly understand that people want something done to solve the problem.
Multinational road builder Fulton Hogan won the NSW government $130 million tender to widen the intersection by 2017. The Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC), who will build and operate WestCONnex, boasts that the project will remove a ‘notorious bottleneck’. Judge for yourself if you think this is the case.
As with all motorway projects, traffic modelling is a crucial part of the environmental impact assessment process.
The EIS for the King Georges Interchange was done by global company Jacobs Engineering.
Jacobs took over Australian company Sinclair Knight Merz in 2013/2014. If you’ve been following Fairfax’s major investigation into Unaoil, you will have read that Sinclair Knight Merz is one of the Australian companies being investigated for illegal offshore payments before 2012.
The King Georges Interchange traffic analysis was begun at Sinclair Knight Merz by traffic engineer David Lowe who signed his final report after he’d transferred to Jacobs in August 2014 .Like AECOM, Jacobs has a number of other WestCONnex contracts including in WestCONnex Stage 2 and 3. Lowe developed his career in transport at the Roads and Traffic Authority, now Roads and Maritime Services that are commissioning SMC to build WestCONNex.
People’s EIS are not suggesting that Lowe was in any way involved with making illegal payments.
To find out if the WestCONnex boasts are justified, you need to deep into the EIS and its appendices.
Jacobs modelled the difference in travel times between widening the interchange and not widening it. Three benchmarks were chosen – 2014, 2017 and 2027. We’re not sure why Jacobs didn’t use 2031, the benchmark used for the M4 East and the New M5. Could it be that the figures would have been even less favourable to the case for the project?
According to Jacobs traffic modelling, if you drove along King Georges Road north from Stoney Creek Road to Canterbury Road in 2014, it would have taken you 9 minutes. Without the project, it would take you 11 minutes in 2017. With the project, it will take you 10 minutes, just one minute less. With the entire $16.8 billion Westconnex constructed by 2027, it will still take you 10 mins. Without the project, it would take you 13 minutes.
If you were travelling southbound between Canterbury and Stoney Creek roads, there would also be only one minute’s difference in your journey with the project in 2017. With the full WestCONnex, it is predicted to take you five minutes longer in 2027 than it does now. No doubt it would take even longer in 2031.
According to the EIS, the intersection at the corner of King Georges Road and Canterbury Road will still be at Level of Service F ( the worst level of waiting time) in peak hour with or without WestCONnex.
Most people would agree that the scenario with or without the project is NOT OK. Something needs to be done about shocking traffic congestion in Sydney but it’s clear that by spending billions of dollars on tollways, many Sydney residents will still be worse off in 2027 than in 2014.
At the moment NSW spends approximately 75 % of its transport budget on roads but its clear that a different solution is needed. The People’s EIS paid a visit to the interchange and noticed that about 90% of cars only have one occupant. Surely there is a better way our society can organise people moving between home, work or school at peak hour. Roads are not an efficient form of transport or use of public funds or energy.
There are lots of ideas apart from tollways for how to improve traffic congestion in this part of Sydney. Some of them have been explored by EcoTransit Sydney in some excellent videos by Gavin Gatenby . Ecotransit offers four projects that would cut tens of thousands of cars from the M5, the Princes Highway and local roads for an eighth of the cost of the New M5 WestConnex. None of these alternatives have been explored in the New M5 WestCONnex EIS.
Human cost of King Georges Interchange Upgrade
Now let’s look at the human cost of these current road works. One issue is noise, both from construction and traffic noise. Noise can damage health through interrupting sleep, increasing tension and interfering with learning and other daily activities.
This issue is not just relevant to the residents of South West Sydney but also to many thousands Sydneysiders who face a prospect of living near massive tollway constructions for up to two and half years in Homebush, Concord, Haberfield, Rozelle, Camperdown, Glebe, St Peters and Alexandria.
Its worth noting that some of the submissions sent to the NSW Planning Department for the King Georges Interchange mentioned concerns about noise and the height of the noise walls. Canterbury Council, for instance, wanted more noise assessments done before the project was approved. Despite these concerns, if you read the the Planning Department’s final assessment you would think that new noise walls would improve the situation for residents living near the old M5 and that there would be little construction work at night.
The Design plan for the interchange works was done by AECOM. This is the same company that has been paid more than $32 million for other work on the Westconnex including the traffic projections for the New M5 and M4 East. (AECOM has already paid $280 million to settle a case in which it was alleged that the company provided false and misleading traffic figures for the Clem 7 tollway in Brisbane and is still being sued by other investors.)
The project includes the removal of some existing noise walls, mounds and vegetation on the M5 which will be replaced by new walls. According to the EIS (p.52), the old noise walls would be down for about 14 weeks. During this period, residents living near the existing motorway are exposed to the full noise of the M5 as well as construction noise during day and night.
So far, the noise walls has been down for more than 7 months. What this also means is that the EIS noise assessments for how long people are exposed to high noise levels have also turned out to be wrong.
This has stopped the Project Director Ken Reynolds from putting out a PR release boasting that
“As this interchange is one of Sydney’s worst pinch points, it’s great to see the improvement work really taking shape.Work on the upgrade began six months ago and you can really see the progress that’s been made, with 80% of the foundation work for retaining walls and bridge lengthening now completed and around 21,000 cubic metres of earthworks carried out.This means we’re moving closer to bringing relief to the tens of thousands of motorists who get stuck in congestion here every day. The upgrade will cut travel times at the interchange by up to half, as well as alleviate delays along the M5 East and King Georges Road.”
In light of the figures in the EIS, Reynolds excitement about the relief from congestion would appear to be misleading and misplaced. While he did mention the tolerance of the local community, he did not mention noise walls delays.
Reynolds is also the Project Director for the WestCONnex New M5. Previously he has worked for tollway company Transurban and major developer Lend Lease.
Local group asks NSW Planning to investigate WestCONnex failures
Last week, the North Beverly Hills Progress Association (NBHPA) Chairman John English wrote to the Department of Planning and Environment complaining that residents were worried that the new noise walls were lower and in a different position than those promised, leaving them worried that they would be exposed to debilitating noise permanently.
The noise wall construction in question is directly south-east of the what is known as the Cooloongatta Rd bridge which crosses the M5 motorway at the end of Elouera St South.
The NBHPA had thought iy had nailed down the height and position of the noise walls at a meeting in October 2015 between BHNPA and WestConnex, Fulton-Hogan Engineers and Department of Planning and Environment representatives.
English wrote, “The noise walls do not appear to be located in the positions shown in WestConnex Landscaping Plans and are inconsistent with assurances given at the October 22, 2015 meeting”
At the October meeting, NBHPA provided email assurances it had received from West Connex that all noise walls South-East of Cooloongatta Rd Bridge would be 0.5 metres higher that pre-existing walls. According to John English, WestCONnex senior engineer Van Bardzamian and WestCONnex specialist communications manager Rachel Elazzi gave further assurances that the noise walls would be at least 0.5 metres above pre-existing walls after the meeting.
It’s interesting to note that according to his Linked In profile, Bardzamian transferred directly from Jacobs, the company that did the EIS for this project, to WestCONnex.
As you read on, remember that in some ways, Beverly Hills North Progress Association is fortunate. Their Chairman John English is a physics teacher who confident with measurements. Many residents wouldn’t have these skills.
To fully understand John’s reasoning, download Beverly Hills Progress Assocation DEP letter Mar 2016 (3). We have only reproduced some of his Figures in this post.
Figure 1 shows the pre-existing 2.0 metre noise walls on top of a 3.0 metre noise mound, set 5 metres back from the shared pathway.
Figure 2 shows the position and height of the proposed replacement walls in the same location.
In his letter, John writes: According to the Landscaping Plans (Fig. 3), the ‘step-back’ measures 5.0 metres, and is positioned 32 metres east of the bridge. This was confirmed by Steve Tinellis (Fulton-Hogan Engineer) at the October Meeting, who described the 5 metre ‘step-back’ in the noise wall, as “a requirement to secure the footings of the soil-nail retaining wall below.” This is an extraordinary requirement, when the same soil nail retaining wall on the north-west side of the bridge requires a step-back of only 3 metres.
The Landscaping Plan shown in Fig. 3 also indicates a 3.5 metre spacing between the noise wall and the pathway at this position. Fig. 2 shows the actual position of the noise wall posts at the step-back to be more than 6 metres from the retaining wall and only 2.5 metres from the pathway. This spacing is reduced to 1.5 metres further east of this ’step-back’, but according to the Landscaping Plans will have 3 tiers of plants and shrubs in front of the walls.
“In short, what is being constructed does not comply with the approved plans. Repeated requests to Fulton-Hogan over the past months, for precise measurements of noise wall positions and heights have not been supplied.”
Noise Wall Heights
John goes on to explain in his letter:
“In reference back to Fig. 2, it can be seen that the noise wall posts in the south-east section are not achieving the promised “previous height + 0.5 metres”, i.e. 5.5 metres as measured from the shared pathway. The best estimate of the new noise wall height is 3.0 metres on a 1.0 metre mould. This is achieved by estimating the safety barrier at a standard height of 1.0 metre and the post on the retaining wall at a height of 3.5 metres.”
“As shown in Fig. 6 below, these noise wall heights are actually of lower height, i.e. stepping down 3 times, from the noise walls to the east,which are at a lower elevation. Despite several enquiries to Fulton-Hogan to supply actual noise wall heights and reasons why the noise wall supporting posts diminish in height as the elevation increases from east to west, no explanation has been given.”
Figure 6 : Noise Wall posts – South East Cooloongatta Rd Bridge, opposite Elouera St South (i.e. side view of Fig.2), showing 3 ‘step-downs’ in noise wall heights from east to west
Community consultation non existent and discrepancies ignores
“It appears that, despite all correspondence, meetings, assurances and promises, what is being constructed does not resemble anything near what pre-existed, let alone improve on it. Once again the EIS process of community consultation on published plans and documents, has proven to be non-existent. Discrepancies between published documents and construction processes are ignored.”
“Further to this, the timeline for re-installation of noise walls as stated in the EIS, has been completely ignored. Not a single noise wall has been re-constructed. According to the EIS, noise walls were to be removed for a period on 14 weeks before new barriers were installed. Residents are now enduring their 7th month of construction noise without a single shred of noise mitigation installed. Concrete paneling for the motorway below is currently being installed before the noise walls are considered.”
What will happen now?
It’s nearly two weeks since the NBHPA sent the letter that calls on the Department of Planning to intervene on behalf of residents. He is yet to receive an answer. A copy of the letter has also gone to Chris Minns, NSW State Labor MP for Kogarah and Linda Burney Labor MP for Canterbury who is retiring to run for Labor for the Federal seat of Barton.
Full North Beverly Hills Progress Association letter Beverly Hills Progress Assocation DEP letter Mar 2016 (3)