The final piece of the WestConnex puzzle has been revealed - a $2.6 billion, 2km link to Sydney Airport

RMSThe Sydney Gateway connection

The good news motorists heading to Sydney Airport is that a new “gateway” entrance will make life easier in the years ahead and that there won’t be an additional toll on the final section linking with the WestConnex motorway.

The bad news is it’s going to cost taxpayers up to $2.6 billion – $800 million above the previously estimated cost of $1.8 million, an extra football stadium – and won’t be completed before 2023 at the earliest, meaning congestion around Australia’s busiest airport looks set to continue for at least another five years.

The NSW Government announced today that it had struck a deal with the Sydney Airport Corporation on the 2km section of road known as the Sydney Gateway – the link that originally inspired the WestConnex project several years ago – and will connect the new M5 interchange at St Peters and the airport and port precinct. The government said the Sydney Gateway is “targeted to be complete in 2023”, subject to planning approvals.

There are around 43 million passenger movements via Sydney Airport annually – around 150,000 people daily, with 75% arriving by road.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the project will help “fix notorious bottlenecks” around the airport and allow drivers to travel from Penrith or Parramatta to the domestic terminal without stopping at traffic lights.

The privately owned airport will receive $170 million in compensation for granting 10 hectares of easement on its northern section around to the gateway project. It will result in the relocation and reconfiguration of the Airport Drive connection to the international terminal, upgrades around the domestic terminal to Qantas Drive, including a flyover to bypass traffic lights, as well as Joyce Drive, a redesigned intersection into the terminal, plus a duplication of 3km section of the Port Botany freight rail line between Botany and Mascot to increase capacity at the nation’s largest container terminal.

But while the project won’t have a toll on it, the project will cost taxpayers between $2.2bn and $2.6bn for it, on top of the $16.8 billion already being paid for WestConnex – a project originally priced at $10bn six years ago.

RMSThe Sydney motorway network including the Sydney Gateway

The gateway project, originally priced at $800 million, has been the subject of repeated controversy since it was originally planned part of the $16.8bn Westconnex costing before the government declared it was a separate project with separate costs. Just a year ago, the crucial connection was still without a plan or funding, despite being crucial to the toll road.

Government “Cabinet-in-confidence” documents about the Sydney gateway, leaked earlier this year, put the total cost of the project at $1.8-2.1bn with an additional toll under consideration. Back then, the project had $800 million budgeted towards it via WestConnex funding. Today’s announcement suggests the government got a better deal from Sydney Airport with the original plans for acquiring 13ha of land from the business priced at $300 million.

The federal Government is contributing towards the cost of the rail line duplication, to be delivered by the Australian Rail Track Corporation.

The Premier said the toll-free link will cut the travel times between Parramatta and Sydney Airport via new M4 and M4–M5 Link by up to 40 minutes.

Of course it will also cost motorists up to $8.95 – WestConnex, which the government is selling a 51% stake in the project to a consortium led by Transurban, the operators of nearly every other toll road in Sydney – has distance-based tolling starting with a flagfall of $1.27, then 47 cents per km. The 33km WestConnex toll road network is also due to be completed in 2023.

While announcing the finalisation of the Kingsford Smith airport project, the government said new M12 motorway servicing Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek will also be toll free.

The Sydney Gateway project now needs to undergo an environmental assessment, community consultation and planning approvals, before work can commence.

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