August 09, 2012

Horse 1344 - Going Underground
Parramatta Road would be carved open and an eight-lane motorway dug beneath in plans being developed for a huge expansion of Sydney's tollway network.
The plans, being drawn up by the government's infrastructure adviser, Infrastructure NSW, envisage three new motorways in Sydney, to be paid for partly by a new tolling system across the city.
But they would cost $10 billion to $15 billion in government money, as well as tolls. And the scale of the projects would make any other big investment in transport beyond the north-west rail link unlikely for decades.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 5th Aug 2012

I think that there's something all a bit Pavlovian about this; and by Pavlovian I don't mean a meringue based dessert or even anything to do with a certain Russian ballerina, but rather the man who conducted a series of experiments into classical conditioning involving bells and dogs. O'Farrell's Government has rung the bell and already we're salivating and wagging our tails; waiting for whatever morsel they decide to drop to us poor pathetic dogs of New South Welsh denizenry.
I suspect like the vast majority of times that the bell has been rung, that we'll all start salivating on cue, hundreds of words will be written in the press, maybe some words of invective will appear on radio and television and then in three weeks time, this will disappear, never to be seen again.
If there's one thing I've learnt, or rather have been conditioned to expect by successive waves of governments both at Federal and State level, is that just like on the football field, even if you see someone holding up strip with their name on it, don't believe anything until they appear on the pitch; thusly, don't believe any announcement for some new venture until the day it opens to the general public.
Anyway, onto the purported "project".

The idea that a "cut and cover" proposal would be made in the 21st Century seems downright daft to me.
The Metropolitan Line on the London Underground was built between 1860 and about 1899, opening up London's streets. This at the time was seen as incredibly disruptive and given that this was in an era before widespread motor-car and motor-bus use; so, to try such a thing now on a major aterial road is to increase the problem many many times over.
The thing to note about the Metropolitan Line in the 1860s is that it was a two line railway, with an up and a down line. An eight-lane motorway would obviously have to be far wider which would probably involve tearing down every single building along the route, and/or running the two directions of four lanes on top of each other. This wasn't even attempted on the Eastern Distributor which was opened in 2000.
The most likely configuration for an eight-lane motorway would be two build a hole four lanes wide and sufficiently deep enough to build three decks of roadway, with the two directions of motorway stacked on top of each other and then finally the return of Parramatta Road on top of that. At bare minimum you'd need a hole at least deep enough to allow semi-trailers and B-doubles to pass through, and then you'd need to double that to allow for both running directions and further to that all of the utilities services would need to be diverted. It just seems like far too much effort for no real net gain to me.

The other major problem that I find with this proposal isn't to do with any technical problems which an eight lane motorway might throw up, but the fact that it's even being proposed at all.
You'd think that a motorway would decrease congestion on the face of it, but the experience of the Warringah Expressway, M2, M4 and M5 all show is that motorways don't really do a lot in decreasing congestion all that much. Just like a long pipe full of water, stuff that flows into the pipe, has to flow out of it at some point, and if the end happens to get clogged, then the pipe simply fills up. That is precisely what happens every single morning on the Warringah Expressway, M2, M4 and M5. The obvious thing to do would be to stop putting so much into the pipe in the first place.

It seems to me that a train service which would take cars off the road to the tune of about 10,000 an hour seems like a far more efficient use of time, money and effort. Also because a train tube can be built using either the Greathead Shield and/or Tunnel Boring machines and can be put sufficiently deep enough not disturb either the buildings or the services attached to those builings, then the only reason that I can see why it shouldn't be built (assuming that the money has been committed) is purely political.
Then again, being the classically conditioned Pavlovian scum that I am, I wouldn't assume that this was anything but a purely political announcement, and timed so that any construction work if it ever came to pass would conveniently commence after the next election. I note careful use of the words "20-year state infrastructure strategy", which indicates that it won't be opened until 2032 at the latest and of course gives ample time to can this project just like every other time it's been announced since 1947 as part of the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme.
Actually I don't even need to make this point, because I've already written something on exactly the same subject five years ago in Horse 813.

So then what are we to make of all this? Is this proposal like so many before it, simply not going to happen at all? Even if this daft proposal was to be built, I fear that it is misdirected. If we assume that the world passed peak oil production possibly circa 2010, that then future of this piece of infrastructure is rather bleak. Widespread motor car use might not be even be plausible in the future if petrol prices suddenly spike. For a city like Canberra which was built almost 100 years ago, and even the US Interstate System which was proposed under Eisenhower, the future as they saw it never foresaw the end of the motor car as a thing.
Besides which, if you look at the history of Sydney anyway, most development which occurred even and including right up to the 1990s mostly happened along railway lines, rather than arterial roads. Since the building of infrastructure today, shapes the face of the future, it seems to me that the utility of building underground railways would be more useful to the people of 2062 than a motorway.

For me, the key phrase of this article is this:
But they would cost $10 billion to $15 billion in government money...
It's worth remembering that the $10 billion to $15 billion is really our money because government spending itself is really just another form of collective purchasing. The question I suppose from a philosophical standpoint is, how do we want our money spent as a state? If the majority of people want the motorway right now, then I guess we can't really begrudge them. Although I think that the words of Hermann Göring are particular instructive at this juncture:
We have no butter... but I ask you, would you rather have butter or guns? Preparedness makes us powerful. Butter merely makes us fat.
Is the exercise in building this motorway the same as buying metaphorical butter? I don't know.

No comments: