Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
In March 2021, it was reported that more than 10,000 heavy vehicles had dodged fines for illegally avoiding Sydney’s new $3 billion NorthConnex tollway in the north-west and instead using Pennant Hills Road.
As the road opened up in October 2020, so too were oversized vehicles requested by Transport for NSW to make use of the tunnel – a tunnel which costs trucks $24.34 to pass through.
In fact, the nine-kilometre alternative route – the longest of its kind in Australia – was built to link the M2 motorway to the M1 Pacific Motorway and bypass an infamous stretch of Pennant Hills Road where suburban commuters were regularly forced to battle interstate freighters – the result of which was crawling traffic.
Nevertheless, Transport for NSW allowed a grace period for heavy vehicles that intentionally avoided the tunnel – an amnesty where warnings were issued instead of fines, also meaning the state government forewent $2 million in revenue since it opened.
However, as of 15 March, the grace period came to an end.
Now, Transport for NSW is enforcing compliance on the contentious NorthConnex channel for heavy vehicles, and for those that still choose to evade the tunnel and its tolls, heavy fines are in place, as is being subject to prosecution.
In fact, trucks and buses longer than 12.5 metres or higher than 2.8 metres must use the tunnel or pay a $194 fine.
Indeed, signage and cameras appear on overhead gantries, as does signage on connecting major roads in place.
Part of the reasoning behind constructing the controversial tunnel was its potential to remove 5000 trucks a day from Pennant Hills Road.
But according to Transport for NSW, since opening, they had “issued 10,623 warning letters [up to March 5]”.
The body also advised it started issuing fines at the end of March 2021, with drivers and the community receiving updates closer to the time.
According to the Roads and Maritime Services, a $194 fine will be issued to oversized vehicles that evade the tunnel and travel along Pennant Hills Road, with no loss of demerit points.
The Roads and Maritime Services advises that the “Northconnex delivers faster, safer, more reliable and more efficient journeys for road users. It also returns local roads to local communities, improves air quality along Pennant Hills Road and reduces congestion and noise”.
How Heavy Vehicles are Fined on the NorthConnex Tunnel
Two gantries at West Pennant Hills and Normanhurst photograph vehicles passing through.
Fines are triggered when trucks and buses pass through both gantries with the flow of traffic – meaning trucks that stop along the route for deliveries or a toilet break are not be fined.
Meanwhile, there are numerous large warning signs along Pennant Hills Road, the M1 Pacific Motorway (southbound) and the M2 motorway that direct oversize vehicles into the tunnel.
For logistics companies and transport unions, opposition has been strong against the government’s decision to force trucks onto the road.
According to Road Freight NSW chief executive, Simon O’Hara, while toll roads such as NorthConnex can be a “win” if they deter noisy vehicles away from local roads and speed up travel for transporting freight, they should still be optional.
“If you want people to use something you’ve got to incentivise them. Instead of bringing out the stick, you bring out the carrot,” Mr O’Hara said.
Until 2048, motorists will be charged for using the tunnel, with tolls gradually increasing at 4 percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is greater.
Transport for NSW: NorthConnex a Safe and Efficient Freight Route
Meanwhile, in a statement from Transport for NSW, Acting Deputy Secretary for Greater Sydney, Howard Collins, said the NorthConnex has provided a safe and efficient freight route – one that has returned Pennant Hills Road to local communities and cut travel time by up to 15 minutes.
“We are seeing more than 6,000 trucks utilising the new tunnel per day, reducing congestion on Pennant Hills Road and noise for local residents and businesses,” Mr Collins said.
“The majority of trucks and buses are doing the right thing, with only around 80 trucks a day on average still taking Pennant Hills Road, compared with more than 6,000 trucks that are using the tunnel.”
Click here for more information on the law on fines in NSW.