Four years after the first sod was turned, a new tunnel that promises to shatter Sydney commute times will open early on Saturday.
A little after 2am the first vehicle will make its way through the tunnel from Homebush, in the city’s west. It will then proceed to bypass more than 20 sets of traffic lights along Parramatta Road, one of the most clogged roads in Sydney.
Some 5.5km later it will see moonlight again at Haberfield, in the inner west.
The NSW Government has said it expects 67,000 cars a day to use the new route. The tunnels will include giant signs on the walls so drivers will know the suburb they are driving under.
Known during construction as West Connex, and now officially dubbed the M4 East, the $3.8 billion motorway brings western Sydney that bit closer to the CBD.
Although those hoping for a complete traffic light free trip from Parramatta to the city will be disappointed — the M4 extension still stops 9km short of Martin Place and motorists will have to traverse existing roads to continue their journeys.
“These tunnels are a game changer for the people of western Sydney, doubling the capacity of the corridor between Homebush and Haberfield,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack Mr McCormack said on Friday.
The new road will complete phase one of the vast West Connex motorway project, much of which people will never see as it’s buried deep underground.
Next year, the first phase of stage two will open with a duplicated tunnel on the M5. However, this section will also include one of the most prominent above-ground elements of the project — a huge surface motorway interchange on an old waste dump close to Sydney Airport.
Then in 2022, a tunnel linking the M4 and M5 will effectively create a new ring road from Sydney’s west to south west via the inner west. Little wonder, it’s been called West Connex.
It’s a vast project that is likely to cost at least $20 billion if not much more and was funded by the NSW Government’s controversial lease of the state’s electricity infrastructure.
Labor found itself wedged by the new road when it was under construction. Inner city Labor voters were aghast at the new motorway. The slip roads and ventilation stacks involved the destruction of scores of heritage listed homes while there are fears local streets will be clogged. Cracks appeared in some homes due to the drilling below.
But the road was welcomed in the traditional Labor heartlands of western Sydney because it will allow those with already lengthy commutes to leave home later and come back earlier.
This week the opposition has focused on the steep tolls motorists will have to pay to use the shiny new road.
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said the Government’s decision to not allow a toll-free period on the M4 East was an “insult” to western Sydney motorists who will now pay more than $15 a day to get to and from Sydney’s CBD.
Labor has claimed over the course of a year a driver using the M4 daily twice each way would from Parramatta to the city would be out of pocket by $3787 in tolls alone.
“Western Sydney motorists are going to experience toll shock and this government has done nothing to prepare them for that,” Ms McKay said.
“The Premier talks a big game on the cost of living but when it comes to delivering she has failed miserably.”
But Premier Gladys Berejiklian is stoked at the new road.
“These twin tunnels give drivers the option to avoid 22 sets of traffic lights, slashing up to 20 minutes off a trip from Parramatta to the Sydney CBD,” she said on Friday.
“This is a major step towards giving back more time to people, so they spend less time in traffic and more time with family and friends, as well as doing the things they love”.
The State Government is on an infrastructure binge. The first phase of the new Sydney Metro rail line between the city’s north west and north shore opened in May with the longer second phase to Bankstown, in the south west, via the city now being built.
Macquarie St is looking to Canberra to tip in a few billion dollars for a new Metro West line to Parramatta that will parallel the M4 East for much of its route.
Newcastle’s light rail opened this year. While the much overdue Sydney light rail extension, which will bring back trams to the centre of the city for the first time in decades, is due to open at Christmas.