August 30, 2018 / 4:31 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-Australian watchdog clears Transurban-led bid for $11.7 bln WestConnex stake

* Transurban-led bid for Sydney’s WestConnex stake cleared-ACCC

* Transurban pledged to publish traffic data to inform competitors

* NSW govt finalising its decision on preferred bid - treasurer (Adds government comment, shares)

By Paulina Duran

Aug 30 (Reuters) - Australia’s competition regulator cleared on Thursday a bid led by Transurban Group for a controlling stake in Sydney’s A$16 billion ($11.66 billion) WestConnex toll-road project after the company pledged to publish key traffic data.

A group led by Transurban and the country’s largest pension fund is one of two parties vying for a 51 percent stake in Sydney Motorway Corporation, the government-backed company building the 33 kilometer (20.51 miles) tollway running through Sydney’s fast-growing western suburbs.

“Like most observers, we were concerned by Transurban already having a majority interest in 7 out of 9 toll roads in Sydney,” the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

But the regulator said its models show Transurban’s dominance would not impact toll-road prices for drivers, which are capped at levels set by the New South Wales state government.

The consortium, dubbed Sydney Transport Partners, is competing for the stake in one of Australia’s biggest transport infrastructure projects against another group spearheaded by pension fund IFM Investors, which owns toll roads in Europe, North America and Sydney.

The New South Wales treasurer said in a statement on Thursday the government was finalising its decision on a preferred bidder and would announce an outcome “in due course”.

Transurban spokeswoman Josie Brophy said the company welcomed the ACCC decision but would not comment further on the transaction until the government had finalised the process.

As part of the undertaking, Transurban will be required to publish 15 minute interval toll data on all its Sydney assets, including vehicle count, classification and direction of traffic flow.

Transurban’s traffic data will help competitors build accurate traffic forecasts should they wish to bid for future toll road concessions, the ACCC said.

“We are satisfied that with this undertaking others will be able to compete for new toll road concessions in New South Wales if Transurban succeeds in its bid for WestConnex,” Sims added.

Shares in Transurban were 1.7 percent higher on Thursday, while the broader market was unchanged.

In May, the regulator had raised concerns about the impact on competition from the consortium’s proposed bid. ($1 = 1.3727 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney and Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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