Sydney motorist Craig Fulham on the M7. Photo: Andrew Meares
There’s a reason why the daily commute seems to be going a little slower – traffic numbers continue to rise on the city’s major toll roads.
The average number of trips made each day on the M2, M7, Eastern Distributor and Lane Cove Tunnel jumped last financial year, according to figures from Transurban, which manages the roads.
There were an extra 12,629 average daily trips made on the M2, a 13.8 per cent increase, on the back of the completion of a major upgrade in August last year.
Graphic: Angelo Vlachoulis
Daily traffic also increased by 8.9 per cent on the Lane Cove Tunnel and Military Road E-Ramp. Numbers are up 8.1 per cent on the M7 while the Eastern Distributor has seen traffic rise 2.3 per cent.
The increases follow years of tolls hikes where a daily commute can come at a serious cost to household budgets.
According to the Roads and Maritime Services toll calculator, a trip from Richmond Road in Marsden Park to Bridge Street in Sydney, using the M7, M2, Lane Cove Tunnel and Sydney Harbour Bridge, costs about $18.
Using the M5 and M7, a return trip from Henry Lawson Drive in Milperra to Norwest Boulevarde in Bella Vista costs about $24.
A full lap of Sydney, leaving from Pyrmont – taking the Lane Cove Tunnel, M2, M7, M5, Eastern Distributor and Cross City Tunnel – and finishing at Harbour Street will set you back about $33.
But it seems the price tag is not deterring motorists. Of the five Sydney toll roads for which Transurban released annual data, only the M5, which is undergoing construction work, recorded a fall in traffic.
There was 1.2 per cent, or 1436, fewer daily trips on the motorway, although all lanes should be open again in October this year.
Transurban said recent increases were driven by traffic growth in the north-west corridor of the orbital network caused by the M2 upgrade, which saw the motorway widened and new on and off ramps added.
According to Vic Lorusso, a traffic reporter from the Australian Traffic Network, more motorists from growth areas in western Sydney were using toll roads to get to and from work in the city.
Heavy motorway traffic was also starting much earlier in the morning and continuing much later into the night than in the past, he said.
Daily volumes are expected to move even higher as new projects, such as the planned WestConnex designed to link Sydney's west with the airport, fill in the missing link on the toll road network, NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said.
''The more people that are using motorways ... means the less congestion there is on urban streets. Motorways, if they work effectively, deliver better outcomes for drivers,'' he said.
Director of the University of NSW’s Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation Travis Waller said the traffic growth is a positive because it demonstrates how public-private partnerships can successfully fund key infrastructure.
He said if traffic and revenue continue to increase on toll roads, more investors will be encouraged to back similar major projects.
Transurban, which owns or partially owns six of the nine roads in Sydney's orbital network as well as roads in Melbourne and Queensland, reported toll revenue for the year to end June rose by 13 per cent to $906.5 million.
However, Professor David Hensher from Sydney University's Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies said there is a risk that other parts of the road network will be overlooked and neglected for toll roads. He also said tolls will continue to rise as motorways become more congested in the future.
''The trouble is that if you start tolling parts of the network in order to encourage private investment, you run the risk of the rest of the network suffering because the focus is on the public-private partnership,'' Professor Hensher said.
Mr Lorusso said that despite more traffic using motorways, there had been no noticeable reduction in traffic on other main roads.
There are also significant choke points on many of the toll roads.
''You throw your hands up in Sydney because you're going to get traffic everywhere,'' Mr Lorusso said.