NSW budget: Government could face $10b bill for road, rail

The Baird government faces a $10 billion bill for a host of big-ticket road and rail plans if a flurry of feasibility studies announced in this week’s budget lead to projects getting off the ground.

However, it has emerged that the government may have about $5 billion left over from the proceeds of its proposed electricity network sale after paying for a second harbour crossing and other projects.

The budget allocated money for studies into building the F6 extension from Loftus to St Peters, the M9 outer Sydney orbital road in far western Sydney and a tunnel from the northern beaches  – highly touted projects that promise to relieve congestion and cut travel times. It will also investigate a Parramatta light rail system.

A 60-kilometre M9 from Camden to the Hawkesbury would come with a $4.2 billion price tag, if the cost-per-kilometre of the M7 is a guide.

A 2008 NRMA study shows extending the F6 by tunnelling between Sylvania and Loftus would cost about $2.2 billion – or $2.5 billion, adjusted for inflation.

An unsolicited proposal to the government in 2010 costed the northern beaches tunnel at more than $2.3 billion at today’s prices. It included an above-ground crossing of the Spit Bridge and a tunnel under Military Road.

Parramatta City Council has put the combined cost of its two preferred light rail routes at $1.5 billion – only $400 million of which has been funded by the government so far. The council will seek private investment but is likely to seek further government funding.

A spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Constance said cost estimates and funding options would not be known until feasibility and scoping work had been done. Infrastructure NSW is also due to report back on costs in November.

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia chief executive Brendan Lyon said feasibility work must be done on projects such as the M9 to protect transport corridors from development and avoid costly tunnelling in future.

"These are very long-term priorities," he said. "This is about stopping them being lost to other uses."

Mr Lyon said the government should move to fully privatise the state’s poles and wires assets. "The budget doesn’t have the capacity to pay for the big breakthrough projects," he said.

It is understood that at least $5 billion will be available for the second harbour crossing project from the general roads and transport budget, once the costly north-west rail link is completed. That would mean only about $5 billion – rather than the $10 billion previously thought – for the project would be drawn from the proceeds of the electricity sale, potentially accelerating other projects.

Opposition Leader John Robertson claimed the budget contained 69 planning and feasibility studies "in lieu of actual construction".

"The Liberals are spending over $700 million on drawing boards and glossy brochures, when they should have been getting on with the job of delivering real infrastructure over the past three years," Mr Robertson said.

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