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WestConnex Highway Project, Sydney and NSW, Australia

The 33km WestConnex highway project currently underway in inner Sydney is the biggest and one of the most controversial urban infrastructure projects in the city since the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


The WestConnex project emerged in the context of Sydney’s ongoing challenge of providing infrastructure for a rapidly growing city [1]. As the biggest and one of the most controversial urban infrastructure projects since the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the WestConnex Highway has faced much resistance from Sydney residents. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:WestConnex Highway Project, Sydney and NSW, Australia
State or province:New South Wales
Location of conflict:Sydney
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

WestConnex consists of multiple infrastructure projects. Stage one includes widening a stretch of the existing M4 highway from Parramatta to near Concord Road and extending the M4 with a new tunnel to Parramatta Road and Haberfield [3]. Stage two involves upgrading the road interchange at King Georges Road in order to connect the existing M5 highway with a new tunnel interchange at St Peters [3]. The final stage three will join the first two stages, linking the extended M4 and M5 [3]. Initial estimates of the project cost in 2012 were put to 10 billion AUD, with both federal, state and private funding to cover the cost [2]. However in 2015, the estimate changed to 16.8 billion AUD (converted around 9,9 billion USD), with an expected finish date in 2023 [2]. Federal and state funding combined amounts to only a third of project costs, with government plans to make up the difference through private sources by selling off completed sections of the motorway to pay for later stages [2]. In September 2018, the NSW Government sold 51% stake in the Sydney Motorway Corporation, in charge of building the WestConnex, to a private consortium led by Transurban for $9.26 billion AUD [4]. Whether the remaining 49% are privatised or not, the government have guaranteed that concessions for the right to operate all stages of Westconnex will eventually revert back to the NSW government in 2060 [4]. The WestConnex highway will use distance-based tolls, which would come to 7.95 AUD for the full length of the road, but is likely to increase over the years [2, 6].

Level of Investment for the conflictive project9,912,296,886.00
Type of populationUrban
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:Transurban from Australia - Project co-owner
Sydney Motorway Corporation (SMC) from Australia - Project co-owner
Relevant government actors:NSW Government
Australian Federal Government
A number of Sydney councils
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:WestConnex Action Group (
The Green Party
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsHealth problems related to increased pollution.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Land dispossession
Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Proposal and development of alternatives:More investment in public transport rather than toll roads has been a clear alternative advanced by the WestConnex Action Group and others mobilising against WestConnex and similar infrastructure projects in Sydney, as seen in the joint rally protesting NSW transport plans [13]. Following the completion of stage 1 and 2 of the project, WAG are currently campaigning to spread awareness that there is still a chance to avoid stage 3 [6]. Furthermore, protesters are pushing to keep transport infrastructure state-owned and avoid increasing tolls [13].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The NSW government has continued to push forward with WestConnex despite continued resistance from Sydney residents voicing concerns around negative social and environmental impacts as well as questioning the overall benefit of the project. The lack of open debate and citizen engagement around the project indicates that to date environmental justice has not been served. It remains to be seen whether continued campaigning and political opposition will have any affect on a decision to privatise the remaining state-owned 49% stake in the project or the continuation of stage 3.
Sources & Materials

[2] Gerathy, S. (2017) ‘WestConnex explained: Policy and politics surrounding the Sydney motorway.’ ABC News, 13/02/17.
[click to view]

[3] WestConnex Projects (n.d.)
[click to view]

[4] Smith, A. (2020) ‘Berejiklian government prepares to privatise WestConnex.’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 06/03/20.
[click to view]

[5] McIlroy, J. (2016) ‘Property title scandal as WestConnex protests continue.’ Green Left, Australia, Issue 1117, 05/11/16.
[click to view]

[7] Knaus, C. (2017) ‘WestConnex: bitter battles mark the road to Australia's urban future.’ The Guardian, 04/04/17.
[click to view]

[7] Knaus, C. (2017) ‘WestConnex: bitter battles mark the road to Australia's urban future.’ The Guardian, 04/04/17.
[click to view]

[9] Bowers, M. (2017) ‘Sydney's WestConnex changes the face of St Peters – in pictures.’ The Guardian, 04/04/17.
[click to view]

[10] Dunn, M. (2020) 'Cyclists risk death after popular bike route ripped up for motorway.' 9News Australia, 03/03/20.
[click to view]

[12] O’Sullivan, M. (2016) ‘”It felt like you were being imprisoned”: WestConnex protesters caged in.’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 09/04/16.
[click to view]

[13] Laurence, E. and Cockburn, P. (2018) ‘Protesters march through Sydney in rally against NSW transport plans, road tolls.’ ABC News, 17/02/18.
[click to view]

[14] O’Sullivan, M. (2016) ‘Opposition to WestConnex grows as council blocks contractors from streets.’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 07/04/16.
[click to view]

[15] Hunt, E. (2016) ‘Protesters in Lucy Turnbull masks block controversial WestConnex road project.’ The Guardian, 20/08/16.
[click to view]

The 33km WestConnex highway project currently underway in inner Sydney is the biggest and one of the most controversial urban infrastructure projects in the city since the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[6] Fanner, D. and Knaus, C. (2017) ‘To bring Sydney together, WestConnex tears suburbs apart – video.’ The Guardian, 04/04/17.
[click to view]

[11] Green Left (2015) ‘Sydney Protests Against the WestConnex Project.’ Video.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Louisa Mathies, EJ Atlas, ICTA-UAB
Last update18/03/2020
Conflict ID:4977
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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