At the end of last year, the government reversed the construction method for the Western Harbor Tunnel between Rozelle and North Sydney. It abandoned plans to lay so-called submerged pipes for the three-lane tunnels on the harbor floor, in favor of using two giant drilling machines to dig deeper underwater.
The government has set aside $4.1 billion in the state budget for the new harbor tunnel for the next four years. The tunnel project is due to open in 2027, after the government signs contracts for its construction worth about $5 billion.
Opposition roads spokesman John Graham said keeping the Western Harbor Tunnel in public hands would help improve competition on the city’s motorway network following the toll review, which will be carried out by the former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Professor Allan Fels.
“This would be a competitive strategy under the watchful eye of Professor Fels,” Graham said.
Both the Perrottet government and the Labor opposition have pledged hundreds of millions in toll rebates for Sydney drivers struggling to get around Sydney amid a cost-of-living crisis.
Both sides have also committed to a major overhaul of the toll system, although former Roads Minister Andrew Constance warned in 2021 that any changes to the system would “create very, very significant claims against the taxpayer”.
Last year, NSW Metropolitan Roads Minister Natalie Ward categorically ruled out privatizing the Sydney Harbor Bridge and existing harbor tunnel during a budget estimates hearing.
When asked about the future Western Harbor Tunnel, Ward said, “There are no plans to do this at the moment – I think that rules it out,” before saying, “We’re not privatizing the Western Harbor Tunnel.”
Asked if she could confirm that the government would also rule out privatizing the revenue streams from the port crossings, Ward said: “I refer to my previous answer … I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there are no plans”.
While the coalition has sold the concessions for WestConnex, NorthConnex and the M2, former Labor governments have sold the concessions for the Eastern Distributor, the Cross City Tunnel, the Lane Cove Tunnel and the M7.
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