Developer responds as Aussie road upgrade near ‘killing corridor’ labeled ‘pretty horrific’

Why did the koala cross the road?

In the case of one increasingly busy Australian road, “getting to the other side” is no longer the answer.

Increased traffic on south-west Sydney’s Appin Road has resulted in 32 of the endangered marsupials being killed on the notorious stretch since July 2022 – roughly half of all deaths in the district over the same period. Wildlife advocates have long referred to it as Australia’s “killing corridor”.

Now a massive operation to widen the road is underway. The plan is contentious because it will create a 2.4km-long barrier in the middle of a habitat that supports Sydney’s last growing population of koalas, and individuals either side will be prevented from crossing the road for months.

The secretary of advocacy group Save Sydney’s Koalas, Diana Pryde, described the clearing of large trees along Appin Road as “pretty horrific”. But developer LendLease claims the works around it’s $1.6 billion housing development will ultimately make the road safer for koalas and humans.

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Video filmed last week shows how quickly the landscape along Appin Road has changed. Rows of trees that once provided safety for koalas along Appin road have been bulldozed.

The plan is to increase capacity of the once quiet thoroughfare by upgrading it from two lanes to four, to help service a new 1700-dwelling housing project by LendLease, which it says will help tackle the NSW housing crisis.

The developer has justified its road works by claiming they are an important safety measure. “Following approval from Transport for NSW this year, we’ve wasted no time in starting works to upgrade Appin Road to improve safety for motorists and koalas,” LendLease told Yahoo.

It argues the removal of the trees are in fact a necessary part of the preparation required before the eventual construction of exclusion fencing to keep koalas off the road, and the construction of long-promised concrete underpasses to allow them to cross underneath.

“All construction works, including the phasing of works, are in accordance with relevant environmental safeguards, approvals and licenses,” LendLease said in a statement, highlighting the NSW and Federal Governments are on board with its development.

The koalas that live in the Cumberland Plain region are the only population in NSW that doesn’t suffer from chlamydia which causes sterility and death. Their preservation is seen as critical if the state wants to avoid the extinction of koalas in the next 26 years.

A parliamentary inquiry in 2020 concluded “urgent action” was needed to avoid the already endangered populations being wiped out, with development revealed as a key problem. But facing pressure to combat Australia’s housing crisis, the state and federal governments have continued to green-light housing projects on land where koalas live.

LendLease contractors have removed large habitat trees that once lined Appin Road. Source: Barry Durman

But koalas aren’t the only species in trouble. NSW has around 1,000 threatened species and around half are expected to be extinct in 100 years according to government figures, with development a key threat.

Related: Fears NSW will ‘panic log’ proposed 315,000-hectare koala park

Surprisingly the works have begun before the underpasses were built. For years, LendLease waited on approval from the NSW Government of their final design. Transport said this was because it was required by law to engage with stakeholders about the underpass designs.

“Transport considered a wide range of views and conflicting expert opinions on the updated plans including the size, location, shape and type of crossings required for the road along with other koala measures before giving the developer approval,” a department spokesperson told Yahoo.

Wildlife advocates argue overpasses are more effective. But they are also more expensive. Source: Getty (File)

Lendlease is required to build two underpasses within 12 months of completing its koala exclusion fencing. But both it and Transport for NSW did not respond directly to a question from Yahoo about when their construction is set to begin.

Australia’s largest wildlife rescue group WIRES has expressed concerns about the design of the underpasses, calling them a “dark choice”. It has accused Transport for NSW of ignoring advice from WIRES, ecologists and the broader community.

With the longest tunnel 53 meters in length, experts are concerned navigating them could prove “scary” for koalas. Although Transport for NSW said a light source will be placed in the center of this longer tunnel, Stephanie Carrick from the Sydney Basin Koala Network has questioned its efficacy. “This is experimental and not based on any evidence,” she said.

Many favor building overpasses, which are believed to be superior in meeting the species’ needs, but also more costly to build.

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