Sydney’s paralysis by power failure late yesterday is a reminder of how stuffed the city’s infrastructure is.

This morning, the leaks about the “$10 billion” M4 East motorway project have the stamp of NSW Government lobbying in support of a plan that the Rudd Government already views with grave suspicion as it gathers expert advice on what it might be able to spend in any surviving infrastructure fund in the impending budget.

It is not just that there are doubts about the future of the infrastructure program, which was conceived pre financial crisis, but strong Federal resistance to further indulging the hopeless history of botched transport projects in NSW.

Labelling the M4 East as a “$10 billion project” is totally dishonest. There won’t be any change from $16 billion in current dollars. The probability of a heavy engagement of private capital, along the lines of the disastrous Cross City Tunnel, the farcical Airport Railway link, or the ruinous BrisConnections project, is low.

It is just over a month since Sydney’s $2.3 billion Chatswood-Epping 12.5km underground line was opened; a totally useless fragment of the original Parramatta-Chatswood line, where a major section is already cracking up, the tracks are so steep in parts some rolling stock would risk catching fire underground, with deafening noise levels, and a poorly bonded rubber foundation under the rails which is already being replaced.

In a few months’ time, the Federal Government, fearful of local politics, will announce a site so far from Sydney for a second airport that the city will lose the efficient air links it needs to attract or hold onto those major corporations that once saw it as the natural location for an Australian base or regional headquarters.

And former Premier Bob Carr’s policy of rendering Sydney Harbour safe for waterfront restaurants and apartment developments by banishing any shipping except cruise liners, has pushed Botany Bay, Newcastle and Port Kembla to the limits.

It is almost a rolled gold guarantee of economic decline in the Sydney basin to make air and maritime transport the most difficult to use in Australia, especially as not a single major promise to upgrade the links between Port Kembla or Newcastle by rail or road has even been kept.

Sydney can’t plan, it can’t build, it can’t run and it can’t even ticket major transport projects.

Indeed, yesterday it couldn’t even use its emergency response street level broadcast system, because it runs on mains power with no back-up.

Sydney’s inbred incompetency in the public administration of essential infrastructure is one of the biggest opportunities for development ever handed to SE Queensland and Greater Melbourne.

And it keeps finding new ways to prove this.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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