Peak hour in Austral is so bad, commuters are driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid it
By Tony Ibrahim
Posted Fri 12 Mar 2021
One of Australia's fastest-growing suburbs is caught in a development dilemma where the surging construction of homes is swamping local roads.
Austral is just 13 kilometres away from the under-construction Western Sydney Airport
Austral is not on a train line and the closest station is 4km away
A planned corridor upgrade isn't expected for years
The problem at Austral, 42 kilometres south-west of Sydney, has become so dire that some drivers are swerving onto the wrong side of the road to avoid bottlenecks, which locals say add 30 minutes to a peak-hour commute.
About 30,000 homes are being built in the suburb, with the finishing touches being put on roughly 100 each week.
Dozens of property developers are overseeing the project, but many of the roads they've pledged are yet to be built.
"With all these developments happening, there are just houses shooting up left, right and centre, and the roads can't handle it," said Rebecca Chan, who has lived in the area for two decades.
"[State and local governments] really need to halt on the development a bit and think about how they're going to work out all the roads."
The NSW government has identified Sydney's south-west as a major growth area and Austral is just 13km from the under-construction Western Sydney Airport.
Drivers travelling towards Sydney's CBD hit a gridlock on Qantas Boulevard and Fifteenth Avenue — a road Liverpool Council is campaigning to make a main artery to the new airport.
Blaring horns are commonplace during peak hours and, in a visit last week, the ABC witnessed several drivers crossing into oncoming traffic in a bid to skip the queue.
Austral is not on a train line and the closest station — Leppington — is about 4km away.
The suburb was rezoned for redevelopment by the NSW government, but the two roads are managed by Liverpool Council.
At the most recent council meeting, councillor Peter Harle urged developers to stop building homes so crucial road infrastructure could be upgraded.
"It's getting worse every week, so obviously something needs to be done and it needs to be done fairly soon," he said.
"The government needs to step in, so has council the ability to say, 'no, we won't allow any more developments until the feeder roads are built?'"
Council officials "absolutely agreed" the traffic was an issue, but said they couldn't tell approved developers to stop building houses and work on the roads.
The ABC contacted nine large developers in the Austral area for comment. One responded.
The Village Building Company, which is developing 406 homes in its Realm and Meadows estates, "reconstructed" the existing roads at the front of its Austral developments, chief executive Travis Doherty said.
The developer paid about $14 million as infrastructure contributions to local and state governments, Mr Doherty said.
The funds are meant to cover roads, footpaths, stormwater drains, public transport, schools and more.
Investigations into upgrading Fifteenth Avenue have been underway for years.
Liverpool Council and Transport for NSW is spending $4.8 million exploring ways to connect the road to the Aerotropolis — the business and industrial developments around the Western Sydney Airport.
"The corridor planning and design process will consider the current and future transport and traffic requirements including road, active transport and rapid bus services," a Transport for NSW spokesperson said.
The corridor is expected to feature four new lanes, but two of them would be dedicated to trackless trams or autonomous vehicles shuttling people to the new airport.
These upgrades are years away and won't help alleviate the gridlock in the interim.
Then there's the matter of Qantas Boulevarde, which presently has no upgrades confirmed.
Liverpool Council wants Fifteenth Avenue to be "reclassified as a state road" — and under the NSW government's control — due to the surge in traffic.
And it's hoping to avoid similar issues on larger developments by treating Austral as a case study.
"There are 30,000 odd houses planned in Austral and it's going to continue to grow," David Smith said, the council's acting director of city economy and growth.
"We don't want to see the same issues happening in Austral happening on a big scale in the Aerotropolis."