The worst public works projects ever in NSW

photo by Jorge Láscar/Wikicommons.

The Sentinel outlines the worst examples of bureaucratic bungling and infrastructure-related idiocy in this state’s storied history.

For some reason there’s always been a certain government imperative in New South Wales that prevents us enjoying a utopia where well-planned and executed infrastructure projects work smoothly. 

Sometimes, of course, it’s simply about vested interests having their way.

More typically, it seems to be simply a case of good old-fashioned incompetence. All-in-all, it’s a rare NSW public works project that isn’t labelled “controversial”. 

In honour of the terrible choices a succession of state governments has made over the years, here is a brief list of the most tragically boneheaded projects to grace our fine state. 

Sydney Monorail

Years before The Simpsons turned the concept of the monorail into a punch-line about being conned by the promise of a vaguely futuristic if totally impractical single-track transit system, Sydney got in first. 

In case you’ve repressed the memory, our monorail opened in July 1988 – and went on a 3.6km loop that took you from the middle of Sydney’s CBD all the way … to the middle of Sydney’s CBD. 

There were howls of protest when it was first constructed (“Down with the monorail!”) but, truth be told, it eventually achieved its own kind of Sydney iconography. This was partly – it must be said – because it was pretty lame: breaking down frequently, dripping oil on pedestrians below and (as we’ve pointed out) being the proverbial road to nowhere. It was endearingly terrible. 

It also had a habit of popping up in films shot in Sydney, notably, in the excellent Heath Ledger film Two Hands where it played a pivotal role (ironically) in a chase sequence. 

In the end, it was eventually dismantled in June 2013 – and, perhaps appropriately, the carriages were actually flogged off on Gumtree. In a weird way, we sorta miss it – I mean, what’s going to take us from the middle of Sydney’s CBD all the way to the middle of Sydney’s CBD now? 

Albert “Tibby” Cotter Bridge 

Kudos for the impressive spiralled aesthetics of this pedestrian footbridge across Anzac Parade, Moore Park. It’s just a bit of a pity there are no pedestrians to use it. The original intention (that of the O’Farrell Coalition government) was to improve foot-traffic access in the lead up to the 2015 Cricket World Cup. 

Unfortunately, there was an overestimation in the collective desire to cross the road on a footbridge. This was demonstrated by a state government report last year which showed it was used by just one in every 20 people who arrived at the Moore Park stadium precinct on match days. And it only cost $38 million.  

To make amends for the bungle, the state government then decided to build another footbridge a few hundred metres down the road

They did what?

CBD and South East Light Rail

To be fair, light rail doesn’t compare with the monorail in terms of surreal levels of pointlessness. 

The idea is notionally great – but this project was dominated by controversy: cost blowouts, delays, legal action, the ripping up of established trees around Moore Park and disruption to businesses and residents along the route. It was originally costed at $1.6 billion – but in June this year the Auditor-General said it had cost $3.1 billion

This actually makes sense when you consider that the construction on Devonshire Street alone was so protracted it reached self-parody levels. There have been limpets with more momentum than the construction guys on that project. 

Never forget in the midst of all of this, that we actually already had an extensive and perfectly fine tram system until 1961. Why did they get rid of it? Because we can’t have nice things, that’s why, I guess. 

Cross City Tunnel

A bit like the Albert “Tibby” Cotter Bridge, the Cross City Tunnel was built on the strength of grand designs – without considering if anyone was actually going to want to use it.

If you’re not aware of the details (not surprisingly, considering you probably haven’t been through it), it’s a 2km long twin road tunnel that links Darling Harbour and Rushcutters Bay. Sadly, it turns out no one really wants to go between those places.

Cannily, they applied a toll to convince you that it was wonderful – the operators charging about six bucks per trip for the privilege or (a little known detail) a blood-sacrifice offering to the dragon that guards the western entrance. 

North West Rail Link/Sydney Metro Northwest

According to NSW bureaucrats, if something is worth doing properly – then it’s worth doing several times. 

Classic cases of re-doing something for ill-conceived reasons, include the redevelopment of the heavy rail line into Newcastle for a light rail link – and deciding to move the Powerhouse Museum out to Western Sydney (and then deciding sorta not to). 

Meanwhile, some arbitrary planning meeting determined that it was a wise move to convert the Sydney to Epping railway, after less than a decade worth of service, into the Sydney Metro. 

The project had already been dogged by controversy – apparently the “Tangara” trains couldn’t deal with the steep grades and plans to put a station at the University of Technology, Sydney campus in Lindfield were dumped after local residents objected to the construction of a bridge across the Lane Cove River – purely on aesthetic grounds. It was a classically short-sighted move: and may have deprived the North Shore of a world class educational facility linked effectively by rail.

And then, eventually, ripping it all up and starting again? That’s so NSW. 

Ferry McFerryface

Not a public works project per se, but a governmental “controversy” nevertheless – and indicative of what the good people of NSW have to deal with when it comes to their elected representatives. 

So this cautionary tale goes: once upon a time (actually in 2016), there was a “Name Your Ferry Competition”. It was subsequently announced that the most popular name was “Boaty McBoatface”. 

Unfortunately, this name was already taken – so they went for the choice that apparently came in second place, which happened to be “Ferry McFerryface”. But then it turned out this name wasn’t actually the second most popular option – the moniker was actually the preference of Transport Minister Andrew Constance. 

Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan was a front runner to have his name on the boat – and was (understandably) disappointed that “McFerryface” was chosen instead. Since Kiernan was a much loved figure, naturally there was a lot of angst surrounding the issue.

And so to resolve everything – in their wisdom – they named the boat after Snugglepot and Cuddlepie author May Gibbs. Okay, fine.

Needless to say, it was a weird, confusing time in the ferry world.

Dishonourable mentions

To be honest, there are plenty more examples we could choose. From the obvious examples that haven’t, as yet, fully realised their horribleness – hello WestConnex and Barangaroo – to iconically awful public infrastructure items that were a bit sad but not as bad as all that … and yet were scrapped anyway after a relatively short time (*cough cough*, the Sydney Entertainment Centre).

What are some of your favourite terrible NSW public works projects? Please feel free to leave your comments on our Facebook and Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!

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