The NSW Government has big plans for Sydney’s future, and mega transport projects are key to achieving them. Congestion issues are being tackled on multiple fronts, including new public transport links, upgrades to major roads and improved connectivity across Sydney Harbour.
One of Sydney’s biggest challenges is how to move millions of people around in a city considering its early urban footprint was designed for horse and cart. Sydney’s spectacular harbour is another potential problem—it creates a natural barrier between north and south.
Headline news to kick off the 2021 construction program was the NSW Government’s formal approval for the Second Sydney Harbour Tunnel project. The Western Harbour Tunnel will comprise twin tunnels approximately 6.5 km long. They will connect the WestConnex Rozelle Interchange with the Warringah Freeway in North Sydney.
At the end of 2020, three shortlisted development partners were announced—Bechtel Infrastructure (Australia), Laing O’Rourke Australia and Harbour West Partners Consortium comprising Macquarie Capital, Jacobs and RPS. According to the state government, the potential Development Partner will be announced in the coming months.
The project will involve the construction of parts of the tunnel will require using tubular sections sunk beneath the waters of the harbour. There will also be surface connections to the City West Link, Warringah Freeway and streets in North Sydney, and an option to connect to a planned future Northern Beaches Tunnel (the Beaches Link) and Gore Hill Freeway.
“By creating a western bypass of Sydney CBD, the Western Harbour Tunnel is a nationally significant project to transform the way motorists move around our city,” a state government spokesperson said.
“We’ve been working closely with local communities on this vital program, which will support around 7,500 full-time equivalent jobs and deliver faster and more reliable journeys under Sydney’s famous harbour.”
The Warringah Highway Upgrade is also expected to announce its main works contractor in the coming months. Last year, the state government announced three preferred bidders: CPB Contractors; a John Holland and Seymour Whyte Joint Venture; and Warringah Linx—an ACCIONA, Fulton Hogan and Georgiou Joint Venture.
This project will upgrade roadway extending from the northern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Willoughby Road, adding a southbound bus lane, reducing the number of merge points and improving two bridges.
Western Sydney—Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Sydney’s suburban growth has mainly been westward. However, roads and public transport have so far struggled to keep up with commuters’ need to move between the western suburbs and the commercial districts of central Sydney and northern Sydney. Part of the solution has been to establish Parramatta in Western Sydney as a third CBD for the city; another part requires ensuring the new city is better connected.
As part of the Western Sydney City Deal between the state government, local councils and the Federal Government, the planned Western Parkland City will be serviced by major new transport infrastructure.
That includes sky links in the form of the new Nancy-Bird Walton (Western Sydney International) Airport. Adjacent to the airport, the Aerotropolis precinct will combine residential, commercial, educational, logistics, tourism, aerospace industries and advanced manufacturing.
All the people expected to live, work and visit need to be able to get around. Sydney Metro is designing a new rail line that will include stations at the airport as well as at Aerotropolis. The planned 23 km rail line from St Mary’s to the airport will act as a “transport spine” for greater Western Sydney and create more than 14,000 construction jobs.
Metro West Breaks Early Ground
With Parramatta evolving into Sydney’s third CBD, the Sydney Metro West project aims to create a fast and high-capacity commuter service between the west and the inner-Sydney CBD. The underground rail line will include eight new train stations and connections to other parts of the Sydney public transport network, including the rail link to the Western Sydney airport. It is expected to create 10,000 direct construction jobs and 70,000 indirect jobs.
Early works to prepare for tunnel boring machines commenced in late 2020. The successful tenderer for the first stage of construction, the Central Tunnelling Package comprising 11 kms of tunnel from The Bays to Olympic Park, is expected to be announced in early 2021.
In addition to Metro West, Sydney Metro is also continuing works to upgrade other parts of the suburban rail network, including stations upgrades.
WestConnex Reaches the Final Stages
The $16.8 billion WestConnex, which broke ground in 2015, is one of Australia’s most expensive road projects. The three stages of the 33km project are due to reach completion by the end of 2023 with the final package of works, the new M4-M5 link, which will connect to the new Western Harbour Tunnel at the Rozelle Interchange.
The project is estimated to create around 16,000 jobs during construction. Three main stages have been involved in the 33km roadway: M4 East, awarded to CPB Contractors, Samsung C&T Corporation and John Holland JV; the new M5 awarded to CBP Contractors, Dragados and Samsung JV; and the M4-M5 Link Tunnels awarded to Lendlease, Samsung C&T Corporation and Bouygues Construction JV.
The $3.9 billion works contract for the final piece of the puzzle—the Rozelle Interchange—was awarded to a joint venture comprising John Holland and CPB Contractors.
New Technology for Navigating Underground
One of the distinctive aspects of WestConnex is that 19km of the route is located underground, freeing up above-ground space for parks and other urban open space. This, however, creates a challenge for drivers using GPS technology while travelling.
To overcome connectivity issues, the recently-completed M4 tunnels have installed Waze Beacons technology. This is a first in NSW. More than 500 navigation beacons were installed throughout the tunnels and ramps to enable location services and navigation apps on smartphone and tablet devices to function underground. Waze Beacon technology will also be progressively rolled out across the entire WestConnex motorway network.
“We know many people access and rely on navigation apps on their smartphones and that it can be frustrating when they lose their GPS signal underground and they miss their exit or lose their orientation if they’re not familiar with the tunnels,” said WestConnex New M4 Operations and Maintenance Manager Peter Redwin in a recent release.
More to Come
There are many more transport projects set to hit the drawing board in the coming months and years. The NSW Government Future Transport 2056 plan lays out a strategic vision of improved connectivity with the ultimate goal of the “30-minute city”.
Should this vision come true, it would mean people in Sydney would have travel times of only 30 minutes to work, education or retail in one of the three CBDs. The goal is for smart public transport, roads utilising digital traffic management technology and integration with cycleways, pedestrian links and green space, creating a green grid for Greater Sydney.
That means for civil contractors and transport sector subcontractors, the pipeline of works is looking dynamic and healthy for many years to come.