The first underground sections of Sydney’s mammoth WestConnex project will be open to traffic from Saturday (13th July) – but at a cost.

The new M4 tunnels between Homebush and Haberfield are expected to shave up to 20 minutes off a trip from Parramatta to Sydney’s CBD.

The $3.8 billion, 5.5-kilometre twin tunnels run three lanes in each direction, bypassing 22 sets of traffic lights.

“This is great news for motorists but it’s also great news for local residents – having cars taken off above-ground means many communities will have their local roads back,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Wednesday.

The government predicts it will cut overall traffic on Parramatta Road by 53 per cent by 2021.

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“This is still an incomplete project but this is going to bring enormous benefits straight away with an extra 10,000 trucks off Parramatta Road,” Roads Minister Andrew Constance told reporters.

Motoring group NRMA wants the new section to be toll-free for at least the first month.

But Ms Berejiklian said the government decided against a toll-free period over concerns about excessive traffic.

“This way, we think, will help us manage the new tunnels but also allow people to give it a go under what will be realistic circumstances,” the premier said.

Ms Berejiklian expects a gradual increase in drivers using the new tunnels but the true impact wouldn’t be felt until after school holidays.

Opposition leader Jodi McKay criticised the government’s decision to charge tolls straightaway, saying they’d done nothing to prepare motorists for “toll shock”.

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“The premier talks a big game on the cost of living but when it comes to delivering she has failed miserably,” Ms McKay said in a statement.

Drivers who use the new tunnels will be charged up to $7.89 per trip, depending where they enter the M4.

The next stage of the $16.8 billion WestConnex project – an extension of the M5 to St Peters – is expected to open in 2020. The final stage will link the new M4 at Haberfield to the new M5 at St Peters.