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THE State Government is set to announce the final route for Sydney's next big tollway, the long-awaited M4 East tunnel through the inner west, the NSW Co-ordinator General, David Richmond, said yesterday.
In an address on the future of transport in Sydney, Professor Richmond said the Government expected public-private partnerships to provide new roads worth as much as $7.5 billion over the next four years, including the M4.
"The commitment at the moment is the Government will produce fairly soon a discussion paper to set out some of the options for the M4," he said.
"The Government at this point in time is intending to identify a preferred route and a package of other transport outcomes including public transport initiatives … [associated with] the M4."
But Professor Richmond also left open the possibility the project may not readily get cabinet's blessing, saying the Government still had to make an "initial consideration of whether or not it proceeds".
"The Government has to be confident that, from its own preliminary analysis, it is a project that can be effectively funded from a combination of government and private-sector funding."
An M4 extension has been on the drawing board for years. With the Lane Cove Tunnel operational, it remains the missing link in Sydney's orbital network.
The Government began investigating how to extend the M4 beyond Concord in 2002, but shelved the blueprint in 2005. Last year it allocated $500,000 to revitalise its planning.
Some inner-west residents have opposed the extension, believing the construction would destroy quiet suburbs and affect parkland.
Professor Richmond said the Government was right to dump the link in its previous incarnation, but acknowledged the decision created "discontinuity" in the development of road partnerships in Sydney. "The thing that most impacted on the deal flow … was not controversy about the Cross City Tunnel. It was, in fact, the decision, some time before that, not to proceed with the then proposed M4 extension.
"That was the thing that has caused, if you like, some discontinuity … [but] it was not a project which should have proceeded … because it would have raised similar issues [to the Cross City Tunnel].
He said any M4 East project could not repeat the mistakes made with the tunnel, and had to offer "value for money for the user" at its heart.
"The other key thing was the Government making sure it controlled the road network and the public domain … and, where feasible, to make sure there is an alternative arterial route available. Which goes back to questions of consumer choice and judgments about value for money, at least until usage patterns are established on the new infrastructure."
Professor Richmond said planning for the project would also have to consider the benefits of toll-free periods, and he hinted at the importance of incorporating a link to Port Botany and the increasing number of heavy vehicles that will use the port: "Will we achieve public policy benefits, of, for example, moving freight off existing roads'?"
A similar discussion paper would be released on planning for a separate mass-transit metro rail project. A landmark 2001 report on CityRail capacity constraints said a metro-style network was vital as the city's population grows.
Linton Besser Transport Reporter
August 10, 2007
The Sydney Morning Herald
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