WestConnex chief says reintroduction of M4 toll is ‘exciting’

Traffic on the M4 after toll commenced , Homebush. Pic Nick Moir 15 aug 2017The chief executive of the company building the $16.8 billion WestConnex motorway has described the reintroduction of tolls on the widened M4 as “exciting” while ridiculing concerns about the health impact of exhaust ventilation stacks.
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At a conference on Monday, Dennis Cliche also said 17 million toll “transactions” had taken place with about 150,000 vehicles using the 7.5km widened section of the M4 on weekdays.

Mr Cliche confirmed that since the reintroduction of tolls in August there had been a 25 per cent drop in traffic using the widened section of the M4 – stage one of the three stage, 33km WestConnex – pushing more cars onto congested Parramatta Road.

But in his speech to the Infrastructure Partnerships conference, he said the result is “a really great story” because the drop off is far less than the 40 per cent forecast.

As well, motorists were saving up to 18 minutes between Burwood and Pendle Hill, he said.

The decision to reintroduce a toll on the widened section of the M4 to prove up traffic numbers and help pay for WestConnex has been controversial, with the state opposition describing it as “a tax on western Sydney motorists”.

The new distance-based tolls between Parramatta and Homebush range from $1.77 to $4.56 each way for cars and motorbikes and $5.30 to $13.67 for trucks and other heavy vehicles.

But Mr Cliche – who earns a base salary of $717,000 a year plus bonuses – said the members of the Sydney Motorway Corporation are “now all very excited because previously we were just spending money”.

“And it’s a very strange position to be in as a chief executive when you have no revenue,” he said.

“So the day we turned on the tap and started collecting tolls was very exciting for us.”

Bringing up a slide of a Parramatta Road exhaust ventilation stack under construction, Mr Cliche joked it was “where all those nasty exhaust gases come up, you know, and kill the community and all the rest of it”.

He insisted that “I would have no problem living underneath one”.

“We do a huge amount of modelling and air studies and I won’t quote, but the submission from the chief scientist of NSW was extremely complimentary on the [Environmental Impact Statement] work we had done on our ventilation facilities,” he said.

Mr Cliche also said reporting of how his corporation had treated the residents of the inner west suburb of St Peters, the site of a major interchange, “gets me a little bit irate”.

He pointed out that Sydney Motorway Corporation had cleaned up a major landfill site in the area.

The NSW government is selling a 51 per cent stake in the Sydney Motorway Corporation to the private sector, with the winning tenderer expected to be announced in June next year.

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