Upon coming into office in 2013, Tony Abbott promised to be the ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’ with a strong focus on major road upgrades.
Given that population is set to almost double over the next 50 years, the need for major road and rail and a boost to transport capacity is beyond dispute.
Indeed, the nation faces a ‘congestion charge’ of around $53 billion by 2031 as demand for public transport almost doubles and that for greater road capacity grows strongly, according to an Infrastructure Australia audit released in May.
In this environment, it is interesting to look at the challenges faced by each city and whether or not Australia's major cities have a satisfactory long term plan in place to meet the transport needs of their future population requirements.
Below is a brief look at the country's five biggest cities and their long-term transport plans:
Ranked the seventh-worst out of 123 cities around the world for traffic congestion according to the 2013 Tom Tom Congestion Index of travel times across five continents, and having seven of the eight worst road corridors in the country according to last May's IA audit, Sydney perhaps faces the biggest long-term challenge of all. This is especially true when a solid rate of population growth which is expected to see the number of people calling the city home increase from 4.7 million in 2012 to around 7.1 million in 2042 is added in.
Sydney is also the city making the biggest investments. The WestConnex road project connecting Parramatta with the Sydney CBD, airport and port is one of the biggest ever urban road projects in the country. Tunnelling for the North West Rail Link connecting Chatswood to Rouse Hill is around half complete. Major construction of a project linking Sydney’s CBD and to cultural, medical, education and commercial precincts in the south-east is set to start in September. A dedicated 36-kilometre freight line between Sefton and MacArthur in Southern Sydney is under construction. The 11.4-kilometre south-west rail link connecting Glenfield to Leppington opened in February.
Consistent with the need to cater for both a growing population in the west and an increasing inner urban residential population, a 2012 Master Plan revolves not around one mode of transport or another but rather investment in all types of transport modes and greater interaction between the mode types.
In rail, future plans beyond the North West Link involve completion of a new tunnel under the Harbour and a second CBD line which will allow a the North West Rail Link to extend directly to the CBD. In light rail, the new connection from Dulwich Hill to the CBD and the soon to be started light rail mentioned above which will connect Circular Quay, the CBD and South East including Moore Park and the University of NSW add to the slate of projects.
In terms of roads, priorities after WestConnex revolve around the nine-kilometre NorthConnex tunnel linking the M1 Pacific Motorway at Wahroonga to the Hills M2 Motorway at West Pennant Hills in order to link Sydney’s north to the Orbital road network; a possible extension of the F6 Freeway beyond Loftus Street to St Peters to cut travel times between Sydney and Wollongong and upgrades to arterial roads.
And of course, there is the second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek.
Overall, therefore, while the challenges are significant, it would appear that the city’s long-term approach toward planning does articulate a clear strategy with specific projects. The spread of projects across different transport types appears to be fairly appropriate given the city’s inner and outer urban population expectations and needs. Moreover, as opposed to ‘pipe dream’ style projects in the distant future, a number of these projects do seem to be going into action. In terms of funding, the state’s embracing of asset sales and private sector involvement will help overcome fiscal constraints.
Like Sydney, Melbourne suffers from significant congestion issues, with major freeways and especially the West Gate Bridge often being reduced to a crawl during peak hour. As a sprawling metropolis, the city also suffers from considerable reliance upon motor vehicles as major modes of transport.
Moreover, Melbourne’s population is expected to grow faster than Sydney’s and is expected to increase from 4.2 billion in 2012 to almost catch Sydney at 7 billion in 2042.
Prior to the change of government last year, long-term transport plans revolved around a Plan Melbourne document finalised in 2014. Under that document, critical short-to-medium-term projects revolved around the now infamous East West Link linking the end of the Eastern Freeway in the City’s north east to the Tullamarine Freeway in the north west and subsequently the Western Ring Road in the west; the Melbourne Rail Link which would separate the busiest rail lines and provide a long needed rail link with the airport as well as new stations at Domain and Montague (Fisherman’s Bend Renewal Area); and an upgrade of the rail corridor between Cranbourne and Pakenham and the expansion of the Port of Melbourne container handling facility.
Longer term plans under that document involve rail links to Rowville and Doncaster in the city’s south-east and east, examination of the feasibility of a second rail tunnel and consideration of options for the North East Link connecting the Metropolitan Ring Road at Greensborough to the Eastern Freeway.
That plan, however, is now being ‘refreshed’ by the new government, which has dumped the East West Link. The new government is focusing largely upon the removal of 50 dangerous level crossings, doubling the capacity of the city loop through a Melbourne Metro Rail project (which replaces the previous and less ambitious Metro Rail Tunnel) and adding lanes to the clogged West Gate Freeway. They are also considering a new $5.5 billion road that would use a tunnel, a second river crossing and an elevated freeway along Footscray Road to further ease congestion on the West Gate Bridge. Much of this will be funded through a new fund which will be established following a lease of the Port of Melbourne.
While the state is burdened with hefty debt liabilities, the strategy of leasing the port should at least free up funds in order to make some of these plans a reality.
Still, questions do remain over the strategy of relying on only one effective east-west corridor as the population grows in absence of the East West Link. More broadly, until the intentions of the government regarding the broader Plan Melbourne become clearer, the state’s long term plan remains somewhat uncertain.
Brisbane has the second highest projected population growth in the nation with a population which is expected to more than double from 2.2 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2061, having reached around 3.8 million by 2042.
Added to this, a lot of the growth in the city’s population over recent decades has occurred within outer suburban areas, meaning the transport system will have to cater for greater traffic loads coming through these areas.
Perhaps as a consequence of having two changes of government in recent years, however, much of the state government’s plan to meet the challenges remains uncertain. A Connecting SEQ in 2031 document published in 2012 was the most recent that appears to resemble a long-term plan (separately, the Brisbane City Council published a plan in 2008 leading through to 2026). Major projects outlined within that document included a north-south rail line known as the Cross River Rail Network which would connect the Gold Coast, Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast as well as an extension to the Gold Coast Light Rail Service.
A subsequent plan by the then Newman Liberal government saw the scrapping of the Cross River project in favour of a more modest Brisbane Underground Bus and Train project, duplicating the Sunshine Coast rail line between Beerburrum and Landsborough and removing dangerous level crossings.
In its election campaign last year, the current Labor government promised ‘an inner city rail solution consistent with Cross River Rail Capacity’ but has yet to make any major announcements about transport since coming to office.
Accordingly, while the situation will hopefully become clearer as the first term of the new government progresses, there does not appear to be a coordinated or strategic plan for Brisbane or South East Queensland’s longer term transport needs at this time.
In addition, with a need to address the state’s fiscal position, and Labour’s rejection of a previous LNP plan to privatise assets in order to pay down debt and free up funds for infrastructure spending, the state’s ability to finance a great deal of investment outside of private sector involvement would appear to be limited.
With median range projections suggesting that the city’s population will roughly double from 1.9 million people in 2012 to around 4 million by 2042, and that it will overtake that of Brisbane with roughly 3 million people by 2028, Perth is experiencing significant challenges in catering for a massively expanding population as well as in containing what is already considerable urban sprawl. Indeed, over the longer term, the City anticipates a more than doubling in passenger travel from around 5.8 million trips per day to 12.25 million trips per day. Already, congestion on major road arterial spins is worsening, while the Mitchell/Kwinana freeway system is unable to be expanded within 10 kilometres of the CBD.
With all of this in mind, the City is largely betting its future on light rail. Indeed, its most critical project revolves around the development of a Central Northern Corridor (light rail) connecting Perth to Mirrabooka and suburbs to the north.
Longer term projects include a light rail service to Glendalough/Subiaco/UWA, a railway to Perth Airport, a cross city link connecting Freemantle, Murdoch and Cannington and bus rapid transit facilities from Freemantle to Cockburn Central and to Rockingham.
The city does have a number of major road projects, including the Gateway WA Perth Airport and Freight Access project involving major upgrades to the road network surrounding Perth airport and nearby industrial hubs, the extension of the Mitchell Freeway and construction of a new 37-kilometre highway link between the junction of Reed/Tolkin Highway and the Great Northern Highway/Brand Highway at Muchea. It appears, however, to have more of a string of individual projects as opposed to a coordinated long-term plan for roads.
Also, many of the projects referred to in the current plan remain a long way off and still lack detail. Meanwhile, the state’s fiscal woes cast doubt over when and how these projects will be funded – already, completion of the light rail has been pushed back until 2022.
With a modest level of population growth expected, Adelaide does not expect to face the same kind of challenges regarding urban sprawl of the need for massive transport infrastructure projects as other cities.
As a smaller city, however, it does have a challenge in terms of attracting and retaining ambitious younger people and maintaining a vibrant city and economy. Toward this end, the 30-year transport plan announced by the current Weatherill government in 2013 revolves primarily around bringing people back toward the centre of town and creating a vibrant town centre and Riverbank precinct.
The centrepiece of the current revolves not around roads or trains but rather around a form of transport which was retired more than 60 years ago - the humble tram. Under the plan, new tram routes across the city include services to the Adelaide Airport, Henley Beach, Blair Athol, West Lakes, Semaphore, Magill and Mitcham along with a new CityLINK tram that will loop the CBD via Morphett, Sturt, Halifax and Frome streets and connect with other tram lines and Adelaide train station. Trams will replace the Outer Harbour and Grange diesel trains.
In terms of roads, the major big ticket item revolves around the completion of the non-stop north-south corridor as well as the duplication of a number of major thoroughfares, while the plan envisages longer term ‘potential’ for an underground rail loop in the city.
The $36 billion plan has been praised for allowing industry and communities to plan with greater levels of certainty, but much uncertainty surrounds how it will be paid for in a state with a budget which is already under pressure. Even on government forecasts, a report in The Advertiser suggested, there was not enough money to meet the expenditure requirements, and where an estimated $7 billion in private money needed will come from remains to be seen given that toll roads have been ruled out.