The planned underground tunnels that will link Rozelle with the Northern Beaches are to cost $14 billion, documents leaked to the ABC and Fairfax reveal.
The cabinet documents – one of which is titled “A Final Business Case” – reveal costings for the projects well beyond the previous estimates that had priced the Western Harbour Tunnel and the Middle Harbour Tunnel at $4.5 and $3 billion respectively.
The new official costing is now $14 billion, which, according to The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Martin, includes $340 million for the acquisition of property that currently stands on the site, $7.3 billion for direct and indirect construction costs, and another $5 billion for “contingencies and cost escalation”.
The $14 billion figure, moreover, does not include an additional $8 billion in operation and maintenance costs that are expected over the first 35 years after the tunnels open.
In March, the NSW government committed $77 million in geotechnical work along the route, and, more recently, in June, has spent another $17.6 million for route planning.
As Martin indicated in The Herald, the $14 billion adds to the $16.8 billion for WestConnex and $14.5 billion for the F6 Extension to the Illawarra region that has been proposed.
“It raises questions about the capacity of the state budget to sustain all three road projects,” he wrote.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian declined to confirm the details leaked this week, saying she didn’t know the status of the document.
“What I will say is we made an announcement several months ago that we would do the required geo-tech work, do our homework and once we’ve done that homework, once we have a project cost, once we have an alignment we’ll obviously convey that to the community,” she was quoted by the ABC as saying, adding that she thought it was “way too early” to provide figures at the current time.
Labor has pounced on the leaked figures, with opposition spokesperson for roads, Jodi McKay, quoted by the ABC demanding the government release the business case for the Rozelle tunnel project.
“I think most people would be shocked by the cost,” she said. “[I]t’s gargantuan. Fourteen billion dollars for another tolled motorway. That money would be so much better spent on fast-tracking the Metro West.”
Andrew Constance has previously said that the planned metro line, running between the CBD and Parramatta, would be completed in latter half of the next decade.
Labor opposition leader Luke Foley rounded on the government, saying that the people of NSW had been kept in the dark by the Berejiklian government.
“Have they learnt nothing from WestConnex? Yet again, here is advanced planning for smokestacks, for a big mega-tunnel that will impact on hundreds of thousands of people and yet there’s no consultation with the community,” he was quoted in The Herald as saying.
The freshly leaked documents detailing the blow-out in cost of the road tunnel project have once again raised serious questions about the cost-efficiency and effectiveness of the infrastructure plans put forward by the NSW government.
A Transport for NSW memo released under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link projects had not been benchmarked against public transport alternatives.
Referring to the F6 extension project, the document also stated that “No alternative considerations in terms of a rail solution has been considered. This represents a serious and significant shortcoming of the F6 Extension Business Case”.
The document goes on to detail the benefits of public transport options, such as reductions in road congestion, travel times, and the costs of construction.
“In the interests of taxpayers obtaining value for money,” the memo concludes, “it is strongly recommended that for the F6 Extension as well as the WHT [Western Harbour Tunnel] and BL [Beaches Link] (which also did not incorporate public transport based options) further options analysis be conducted incorporating rail and bus solutions.”