Defining alternatives – what NOT to do, some insights from WestCONnex.

In this post I would like to take the opportunity to rant at something that I believe is an abomination and a shame to NSW: WestCONnex. For those of you who are not from Sydney, WestCONnex is planned to be, at close to $17B, the most expensive piece of road infrastructure of the Southern Hemisphere and intends to widen the existing M4 and M5 motorways coming from the West and Southwest towards the city, to extend them underground with exits in Haberfield and St Peters, and eventually connecting both tunnels via Rozelle and Camperdown (but this is on top of the $17B, more on this later…).

Following on last Monday’s class we all had a good insight into what constitutes a valid alternative or option when assessing how to resolve an issue, environmental or not.

From Gregory’s paper – see here – a good alternative should be:

  • complete and directly comparable,
  • value-focused,
  • fully specified,
  • internally coherent, and
  • distinct.

Now let’s look at how WestCONnex compares to those criteria.

Is it complete and directly comparable?

Answer: NO.  This is possibly its biggest flaw- it is not an alternative simply because no other option whatsoever has been entertained by the decision makers- complete compared to what? Actually there are other options that have been thought through by various alternative planning action groups and they take into consideration a diversity of elements that would need to be implemented to really tackle the issue of congestion and city access including various types of public transport, parking schemes, redesigning of roads, etc. you can go on this page managed by EcoTransit Sydney and find out more (Do watch the 3 videos- enlightening!) . WestCONnex presents one and only one perspective: an all car pseudo-solution – nothing complete, nothing comparable.


Is it value-focused?

Answer: NO. First of all the project was endorsed and contracts signed before the business case was even done- so on what value basis could it even progress?  But even once the business case was released it just did not stack up and has been highlighted as being grossly inappropriate and inaccurate- see one of the actions group comments here. There was never a proper thinking about what was to be achieved. Instead of centering the proposition around the real objective of transportation – i.e. take people from place A to place B- WestCONnex claims to facilitate throughput of car- how did facilitating cars become the objective instead of transportation of people in the first place? Mystery… And you can add to that, as the little picture above shows, that an increase in car throughput is not going to happen anyway. And, in terms of reducing traveling time and supposedly save money, check this lengthy article by researcher Patrick Gallagher to give you, amongst other thing, a perspective on how terrible the assessment of benefits was, most likely it was over-estimated by 2/3!! WestCONnex was also supposed to provide a mean for people to reach the high employment areas of the airport, the Randwick education and health precinct and the Southern industrial area, yet it will fail totally at delivering this. And that brings us to the next question.


Is it fully specified?

Answer: NO. Following on the previous answer WestCONnex is missing many elements that would be required to meet its claimed objective. For example in order to help workers reach the employment areas previously mentioned it would need to include a full overhaul of Canal Street- this is completely missing from the project. But that is not all, one of the key elements, the underground link between the M4 and the M5 (stage 3) is completely uncosted in the current business case!!! That is, to the project’s own admission, 1/3 of the project is missing. There was clearly many elements missing straight from the beginning since the cost rose from $10B to $17B before any work on the ground happened but it could very well be $25B by the time stage 3 is completed- compared to an expected return on investment of $20B (which we have already mentioned is probably more like $6-7B) this project is an absolute accounting catastrophe.


Is it internally coherent?

Answer: Well on this point it is NO as per all previous points mentioned, but also YES if you consider the logic followed by its proponents: politics, construction businesses and big banks. They certainly see the logic of profiting from billions of public dollars being funnelled into their pockets. Our previously cited article by researcher Patrick Gallagher is full of very interesting information about the state of corruption that is at play behind the WestCONnex abomination.


Finally, is it distinct?

Answer: YES. Well at least this is one think that is confirmed. It may not be a solution at all, and certainly not distinct to all the existing road failures, but it is very distinct to all the other potential solutions that have been highlighted before. So, in effect, yes, there are alternatives and, yes, this monstrosity should be dumped and replace by any of them as they do indeed qualify for all the criteria set by Gregory.

So to conclude this liberating post I would like to invite you to have a read through the references mentioned throughout and ask, if you agree with my position, that you please do something about it. This is not a fait accompli, many people are opposing WestCONnex and will welcome your support and action however small it may be. You can find your local branch of WestCONnex Action Group with a quick email to

Together we can stop this abomination!

wrong way go back


Gregory, R., Failing, L., Harstone, M., Long, G., McDaniels, T., and Ohlson, D. (2012). Creating Alternatives. In: Gregory et al. (Eds). Structured decision making: a practical guide to environmental management choices. Wiley-Blackwell: Chichester (UK), pp. 150-172.

All picture credits:

Except feature picture:

I never thought I would reference the Daily Telegraph but here it is, by the way look at the pictures but spare yourself the reading. It has absolutely no critical view on the project whatsoever- level 0 of journalism.

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