Truck operator angst over NorthConnex

By: Greg Bush, Photography by: Greg Bush

Truck owners will face fines for failing to use Sydney’s NorthConnex tunnel in 2020

NSW RMS NorthConnex project director Pat Doyle delivers the cost impost on the trucking industry.

A NatRoad forum, appropriately held on Remembrance Day at the Swansea RSL Club on November 11, highlighted concerns from truck industry operators regarding legislation surrounding the NorthConnex tunnel.

Presentations from NorthConnex project director Daniel Banovic and NSW Roads & Maritime Services (RMS) representative Pat Doyle delivered both the benefits of the Pennant Hills Road bypass and the regulations aimed specifically at truck and bus operators.

NorthConnex, which will link Sydney’s M2 and M1 next year, is expected to charge trucks and buses $23.03 each way, rising with the CPI each year.

However, several trucking operators in attendance felt that the transport industry was being unfairly singled out for the heavy traffic congestion along Pennant Hills Road.

According to NSW government predictions, once the tunnel opens it will remove 5,000 trucks from Pennant Hills Road each day.

"It’s in the top group of one of the most dangerous roads in Sydney," Banovic says.

NorthConnex project director Daniel Banovic explains the structure and benefits of the new 9km tunnel

He also pointed out that the 9km-long tunnel will bypass 21 sets of traffic lights, as well as two school zones.

However, for most truck and bus operators, driving through NorthConnex will be compulsory.

Doyle, who is the project director for RMS, and particularly NorthConnex, says around 26 percent of weekday traffic along Pennant Hills Rd is trucks, rising to around 65 percent at night.

"When NorthConnex opens, trucks and buses which are over 12.5 metres in length, and/or over 2.8 metres in height travelling between the M1 and M2 must use the tunnel unless they have a genuine delivery or pickup destination only accessible via Pennant Hills Rd."

A sign of next year's times.

He says gantries erected along Pennant Hills Rd will monitor and detect vehicle dimensions. Those heavy vehicles making drop-offs or deliveries along Pennant Hills, as well as dangerous goods trucks, will be exempt.

"So, as an example, if you were delivering kegs of beer to the Pennant Hills Hotel you will not get picked up. If you are delivering cars to the Audi dealership, you will not get picked up. If you’re delivering freight to Bunnings you won’t get picked up," Doyle says.

"However, if you go along Pennant Hills Rd as a truck or a bus and you go past both those gantries, and we’re saying with the flow of traffic, you will be essentially looked at for the purpose of infringement.

"Where the route is you’ll see that we’ll have some advance warning signs which will tell you basically that if you don’t get on the NorthConnex tunnel and use Pennant Hills Rd, you’re not meant to be there and potentially you are in breach of the regulations."

Doyle says trucks and buses ignoring warning signs and continuing to use Pennant Hills Road will face fines of $191, although Doyle adds there will be no loss of demerit points.

Responding to a question from Kennedy Express director Michael Kennedy about the lack of an alternative, toll-free route, Doyle pointed out that there is none.

"This route here has been covered by legislation of the Road Traffic Act which was modified in 2017 for the purpose of getting trucks to drive on NorthConnex instead of Pennant Hills Road," Doyle said.

"So you’ve just done this without consultation with the industry about the alternative route?" Kennedy responded.

"So you’re saying that you must use it even if you don’t want to, for whatever reason?"

Concerned transport operators made the trip north to attend the NatRoad Forum at Swansea.

Kennedy pointed out the toll-free options alongside other Sydney tollways, such as the M5 and M7.

"Even the Harbour Bridge, you don’t pay to go over the Gladesville Bridge."

Kennedy also questioned the 2.8 metre height regulation.

"The height doesn’t cause the congestion, the length does.

"If this is to get the trucks and buses off Pennant Hills Rd, what has the height got to do with it?"

Kennedy believes the legislation is purely aimed at extracting revenue from the transport industry.

"It’s about the money. You’re trying to get as many trucks in there as you can."

Pat Doyle from the RMS and North Connex's Daniel Banovic cop a barrage of questions from the floor.

Rob Woolley, from SC Woolley Haulage, runs up to four trucks back and forth along Pennant Hills Rd each night. As well as the cost, Woolley’s concern is what he sees as losing access to facilities.

"I’m up and down Pennant Hills Rd every night, and trucks use service stations and food and fuel facilities, rest rooms," Woolley explains.

"So I’m assuming I’ll have the ability to be able to do that?"

Daniel Machin, from Machin’s Transport, is another operator who will be up for rise in overheads due to the compulsory tunnel use.

"We run up to Peats Ridge four times a day. That’s $160 a day."

"We’re not going to be able to do anything about it," Kennedy adds. "It’s just another cost."

The NorthConnex tunnel is expected to be completed and operational by mid 2020.

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