Baird dismisses funds offer on WestConnex

State Treasurer Mike Baird: Said the budget demonstrated the federal government was not serious about the WestConnex motorway.The federal government’s promise of money for Sydney’s WestConnex motorway in Tuesday’s budget has been dismissed by the state government as essentially meaningless.

The $1.8 billion offer contains conditions that could push the price of the project up by about $6 billion. And most of the money will not be paid for about a decade.

But the announcement of a final plan for the F3 to M2 motorway in Sydney’s north appears imminent, following the federal government’s pledge of $400 million for the tunnel under Pennant Hills Road.

State Treasurer Mike Baird said the budget demonstrated the federal government was not serious about the WestConnex motorway, a series of tunnels and road widenings that would form the largest toll-road project in Australia.

”They’ve provided some money out in the never-never and by the way, they’ve said if you want to do it, we want to add billions and billions of dollars to the cost of it.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese have insisted on three conditions for handing over the $1.8 billion: the project must not involve reimposing tolls on the existing M4 motorway even if it were widened; the project must include a direct connection to the Sydney city centre; and it must include a direct connection to Port Botany.

But state officials have estimated the federal government’s conditions would add about $6 billion to the project’s cost.

”That just strikes me as in a federal election campaign as wanting to put something on a brochure that says ‘we are supporting this project’ when the fact is they really are not serious about it,” Mr Baird said. ”It is not a project that they appear committed to. It is almost like a family saying they are going to Disneyland but they haven’t booked any tickets.”

Mr Albanese said of the WestConnex funding: ”The spread of the federal government’s funding reflects the 10-year delivery time frame identified by the project’s proponent.”

The NSW government has still to finalise a detailed business case for the WestConnex, which it nevertheless insists is the most important infrastructure project in the state.

It will release its business case in July and has promised to start work on one aspect of the motorway before the 2015 election. This aspect will almost certainly be widening the M4. It would then reimpose a toll on the M4.

The Federal Coalition has promised $1.5 billion for the project.

But progress on the F3 to M2 motorway appears further advanced. Toll-road operator Transurban proposed to the state government last year that it could build the road at no cost to the taxpayer.

Tuesday’s budget promised $400 million for the tunnel, an offer the state government has said it is in talks about matching.

Mr Baird said of the F3 to M2: ”Clearly there will be announcements as we get through the process in the next few weeks.”

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