Former NSW roads minister Duncan Gay presented a report to cabinet claiming traffic congestion in Sydney’s CBD would be 35 per cent worse if Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s light rail project went ahead.
But Ms Berejiklian, then the transport minister, produced a report saying traffic would be only 8 per cent worse. Former premier Barry O’Farrell then made the decision to press ahead with the project and it was announced in December 2012.
The Australian has also been told then treasurer Mike Baird had raised concerns about the cost of the project and whether it was worth it.
Sources confirmed to The Australian a battle between roads and transport departments over whether the light rail from the city to Randwick and Kingsford in Sydney’s southeast should go ahead.
The project was originally costed at $1.6 billion and has blown out to at least $2.1bn. “There was a disagreement between Roads and Transport around the traffic impacts of the light rail,” one source said.
The concerns from Roads bureaucrats was understood to relate to George Street being closed permanently and the effect on an east-west travel route for motorists in the city.
The revelation of the warning over congestion comes after The Australian revealed yesterday that after Andrew Constance replaced Ms Berejiklian as transport minister, he and his staff asked senior bureaucrats whether they could dump the light rail and how much it would cost.
Those bureaucrats, including transport secretary Tim Reardon, said the government was locked in and there was “too much sovereign risk” in pulling out of the project.
Mr Reardon is also understood to have said the contract was signed in a rush and the Spanish contractors Acciona had “tied us up in knots” through the contract, which meant that “every alteration we want to make is costing us five times as much as it should have”.
One source said the view of Mr Constance’s office at the time was that the light rail was a “dog of a project”.
Mr Gay declined to comment on cabinet matters yesterday but did not dispute the traffic row.
Ms Berejiklian also would not comment on internal discussions, saying only: “Sydney light rail will be a game-changer for transport from the CBD to Randwick and Kingsford when it starts operating in 2019.”
Under fire in parliament yesterday, Mr Constance was asked by opposition infrastructure spokesman Michael Daley why the government was spending $13 million on advertising the light rail when Mr Constance thought it was a “dog of a project”.
“This government is getting on with building what is going to be a transformational project,” Mr Constance said.
“It changes Sydney for the better.”
Andrew Constance can be contacted on 02 8574 5807
Gladys Berejiklian can be contacted on 02 8574 5000