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$4b tunnel for inner west

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A four-kilometre tunnel from Strathfield to Ashfield and a widened M4 motorway will be the first segment built of the O'Farrell government's WestConnex motorway.

This part of the motorway will cost between $3 billion and $4 billion. Motorists will pay a toll to use it but the amount has not yet been specified.

The tunnel will run under Parramatta Road from the start of the existing M4 at Strathfield to near Wattle Street at Ashfield, where it will have to connect to the City West Link and the eastern section of Parramatta Road to the city.

The tunnel will be dug with three lanes in each direction, making it potentially larger than the four kilometre M5 East. It would require at least one - but probably two - exhaust stacks.

The government received the business case for the entire 33 kilometre WestConnex motorway late last month, but may wait until after the federal election on September 7 before it announces the sequence in which it will build the project.

Fairfax Media can reveal that the business case recommends the first segment should include both the widened M4 from Parramatta to Strathfield, which will have tolls re-introduced on it, and the tunnel from Strathfield to Ashfield.

It also recommends more apartments be built in a high-density corridor above the tunnel, and is said to include plans for an authority to take control of development proposals along Parramatta Road.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay would not confirm the details of the business case, which was worked on by officials from Roads and Maritime Services, as well as advisers from a large number of consulting, finance and construction firms, including Ernst & Young, Macquarie Bank, AECOM, Leighton Contractors and Ferrovial Agroman.

''The details will be revealed when the business case is released after it has been through the cabinet process,'' a spokesman for Mr Gay said on Tuesday.

At 33 kilometres, WestConnex would be the largest motorway project in Australia and one of the biggest transport projects in NSW history.

On what the government has released so far, it would involve a widened M4 from Parramatta to Strathfield, extend under Parramatta Road ultimately to Camperdown, run under the inner west to the airport at Mascot, and then duplicate the existing M5 East tunnel.

It will be built in three stages. The other two sections include the eastward extension of the tunnel under Parramatta Road and the inner west, and the other M5 East tunnel and link to the airport.

The original plan for the Parramatta Road section of the motorway, released by the former heads of Infrastructure NSW Nick Greiner and Paul Broad in October, was for it to be carved in a ''slot'' within the existing road.

But Fairfax Media has already revealed this proved too difficult, partly because of the cost and disruption of removing utilities and services beneath Parramatta Road.

The government has faced criticism for committing to the WestConnex motorway instead of public transport, not extending the motorway to the trucking hub of Port Botany, and for signing up to the project with neither a detailed business case nor patronage figures. It is understood even when the business case is released, the document will be thin on patronage figures.

The government has already said it will contribute $1.8 billion to the project. The federal Coalition has said that in government it would contribute $1.5 billion. The federal government has said it would chip in $1.8 billion but insisted on conditions that would cost multiples of that.

The M5 East motorway has only one emission stack but sources said the best engineering solution for WestConnex would be to have one stack at each end.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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