- The NSW government released updated designs for the $14 billion Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link.
- Revenue concerns for any private operators of the two toll road projects, between Rozelle in Sydney’s inner west, and Balgowlah, on the Northern Beaches, are likely to see a northbound toll added to the Harbour Bridge and tunnel to stop motorists avoiding the tolls.
- Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the government has not yet made up its mind.
- Last year the government reintroduced tolls on the M4 as part of WestConnex. Recent data reveals user numbers fell by 20% as a result.
A new southbound toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge is coming as the NSW government looks to add even more charges to Sydney’s existing road network for additional revenue to pay for other toll roads it has planned.
Releasing updated designs for the $14 billion Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link on Thursday, which will connect Rozelle, near the Anzac Bridge, in the city’s inner west, with Balgowlah, above the Spit Bridge on the Northern Beaches, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government was considering whether to introduce a northbound toll on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
“Unfortunately tolls are part of building a new network,” the Premier said.
“I need to be upfront and say it is still on the table and we are looking at those options.
“I can’t tell you yet exactly how much they’ll be or whether there’ll be a toll on the Harbour Bridge going in the opposite direction or not yet, but as soon as we’ve done sufficient work we’ll make that information available.”
Leaked Cabinet documents last year revealed the government was considering a $3 toll each way on both the bridge and harbour tunnel by 2022. That would see motorists travelling from Sydney airport to the city’s northside paying more than $10 in tolls if they use the Eastern Distributor. The possibility of a Southbound charge on the Eastern Distributor, which is currently free, is also believed to be on the cards.
Only southbound motorists currently pay the toll, so with around 150,000 cars using the Harbour Bridge daily, while 90,000 use the tunnel, the new northbound toll would tip at least $500,000 a day more into government coffers.
Like other tolls run by private operators around Sydney, it’s believed the price for the harbour bridge and tunnel toll would increase with the CPI.
The Premier says motorists travelling to the airport from Dee Why on the Northern Beaches will save 41 minutes on the new toll roads, and 27 minutes from Brookvale to the CBD. A trip from Olympic Park to North Sydney would be cut by 13 minutes, they claim.
The roads will be tolled in both directions. While the government says it has yet to decide on the charge, the 2017 Cabinet documents proposed an $8 one way charge, with the link between Balgowlah and North Sydney costing $5, and the Western Harbour tunnel between Birchgrove and Waverton costing $3.
“We know the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link are important projects that will benefit the wider road network,” Berejiklian said yesterday.
The good news in the new designs released yesterday is that more than 40 homeowners will get to keep their house, with the number of properties the government needs to acquire for the project cut from 71 to 37.
Of those 37, 22 are residential homes, mostly around Cammeray and will be resumed for the widening of the Warringah Freeway. The government will also acquire Balgowlah golf course for the beaches link. It says the locations for the ventilation outlets has been “massively improved” following community feedback.
Preliminary work on the project is expected to begin later this year, mostly around the Warringah Freeway and the Rozelle Interchange for the harbour tunnel. The government is now holding community consultation on the proposal until November.
“We will continue to listen to the community and we want to stress that even these improved plans are subject to further community consultation and are subject to further change,” Roads Minister Melinda Pavey said.
The NSW government hopes to get the two projects underway in 2020 — although the 2026 completion date is now already two years behind the schedule in last year’s documents, which hoped to have the tunnel open in October 2023, and the Northern Beaches link in October 2024.
With an election scheduled for March next year, Labor had promised to scrap the Northern Beaches link if it wins government but is still hedging its bets on the Western Harbour Tunnel.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley accused the government of creating “a toll epidemic”.
Tolling the bridge would leave Victoria Road, via the Gladesville Bridge and Lane Cove as the only way to get between the north and the south of the city for free.
Since embarking on a massive infrastructure build that includes toll roads such as the $17 billion WestConnex and $3 billion NorthConnex.
Last year the government reintroduced tolls on the free M4 as part of the WestConnex build. The distance-based charge on the 7.5km stretch sees cars paying up to $4.74 and trucks, $14.22.
Figures released last month revealed that more than 40,000 motorists daily are now avoiding the M4 toll, placing additional pressure on the surrounding streets.
An average of 196,000 vehicles daily used the part of the M4 where the toll now operates prior to introduction, but that figure had fallen to 154,000 a day by May this year.
With the government looking to sell a 51% stake in WestConnex, the data shows the commercial impact tolling has on consumer behaviour and with northbound traffic on the Harbour Bridge free, the danger for commercial operators taking on the Western Harbour Tunnel and Beaches Link is that motorists will avoid the $8 in favour of a free trip across the Bridge.
Sydney’s troubled history with private toll road infrastructure also details the pitfalls. The operators of the Cross City Tunnel, which now costs more than $5.70, slid into administration in 2013 after user numbers failed to meet budget expectations. The Lane Cove tunnel’s operators suffered a similar fate, going into receivership in 2010. Both projects are now owned by Transurban, the country’s biggest toll road operator.
When the Sydney Harbour Bridge first opened in 1932, there was a toll both ways to pay for it.
When the bridge was finally paid off in 1988, then Liberal premier Nick Greiner announced plans for the harbour tunnel and increased the toll by 400% to $1. By the time the tunnel was complete in 1992, it had doubled again to $2, then jumped again to $3 in 2004. Peak hour tolls were introduced in 2009, with motorists paying up to $4 to use the bridge and tunnel.
The NSW government posted a 2017-18 budget surplus of $3.9 billion.
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