Harbor Tunnel to Ease Access to North Areas

The Sydney Harbor Tunnel is the largest single infrastructure development ever undertaken in the city.

When completed in August 1992, it will be the longest road tunnel in Australia at just under a mile and a half, and will have cost $4 billion.

The Harbor Tunnel is seen as essential to Sydney's future.

Even with eight lanes for traffic, usage of the Sydney Harbor Bridge has outgrown its capacity to provide an effective harbor crossing, and hence the Harbor Tunnel was conceived to ease the burden.

4 Lanes Added

By providing an additional four lanes for traffic, officials hope to diminish considerably the pressure on motorists, particularly during peak hours.

The tunnel is expected to increase harbor crossing capacity by 50% and will cut crossing time by about 15 minutes during peak traffic hours.

Although surrounded by controversy when work officially began in 1988, the tunnel has now come to be regarded as crucial for Sydney's growth into the 21st century. This is particularly true, since the business districts of North Sydney, St. Leonards and Chatswood on the north side of the harbor are becoming increasingly effective alternative commercial locations to the central business district on the south side.

Private Funding

Controversy arose originally because residents in the hinterland of the tunnel construction site on the north side were concerned about environmental destruction during the building.

In keeping with the New South Wales state government's fiscal management policies, the Harbor Tunnel was to be privately funded, with the help of loans of $168 million, interest-free, from the government.

However, due to a shortfall in revenue expected from the toll imposed on drivers crossing the Harbor Bridge, the state is subsidizing the loans by about $3.5 million a year.

The project is a joint development between the Australian group Transfield and the Japanese engineering giant Kumagai-Gumi.

The tunnel is to be privately operated until 2022, when the loans to developers are repayable and it will be handed to the government.

The former minister for public works, Laurie Brereton, who is generally credited with getting the Harbor Tunnel project activated despite public opposition said he was resigned to the fact that he is unlikely to get many accolades when the tunnel opens.

|Dreams to Reality'

"I am delighted to see the job being done, bringing the dreams to reality," Mr. Brereton said. "Sydney owes a great debt to the men who built it. It's been a good project, and I am personally delighted it is no longer considered controversial."

One of the project's staunchest critics when he was in opposition to the then Labor government, Mr. Bruce Baird, now transport minister, said he had softened his attitude.

"The government thinks it's a great project," he said. "that doesn't change in any way the former government's failure to take open tenders and evaluate alternatives, so we will never know if it was the best project."

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