Infrastructure NSW released its 20 year infrastructure strategy, titled First Things First. Most of it was dedicated to transport, which I will be focusing on, though there were also sections on energy, education, water, etc. The recommendations of the report were summarised in this video below, which is a good 4 minute version of the 200+ page report.
The report agreed with some recommendations of the Transport Master Plan, but disagreed with others. And these weren’t just alternate views, it actually took the time to highlight its points of disagreement and explain why it disagreed with Transport for NSW. The Infrastructure NSW report feels very much like it comes from Treasury, and has what I would classify as a pro-road and anti-rail bias. Even when discussing public transport, the report almost universally discounts rail projects in favour of a bus one. But I’ll save those comments for a later post. For now, I’m just going to focus on some of the things that I thought were good about this report.
Prioritisation of projects
No one likes being the fun police, and when it comes to funding that means being the department that tells you that you can’t afford something. This report does that well, which you could argue that the Transport Master Plan did not. While the Master Plan was a bit of a wish list, this report did a good job of emphasising the limited nature of funding available and promoted projects which it believed give most bang for the government’s buck.
Building entirely new projects – another road or a new rail line – is incredibly expensive. Maximising use of existing infrastructure, on the other hand, does not give the impression to the voters that you are doing much to improve the situation much, but is actually a very effective way of increasing overall capacity.
The Clearways project for Cityrail is a great example, which has helped to increase rail capacity via track amplifications, more turnback platforms and additional stabling yards, none of which make the headlines quite like a new rail line or freeway do, but have increased rail capacity by similar amounts for a fraction of the cost. Time of day tolling on the Harbour Bridge/Tunnel is another example, which used pricing to encourage some people to drive during off peak hours (as you only need a small change in traffic to provide a big improvement in congestion).
Infrastructure NSW is encouraging further use of time of day tolling on the remainder of the road network in order to improve efficient use of Sydney’s freeways. In regards to public transport, it looks at ways that portions of the rail network that are currently under utilised, such as the City Circle, can be better used. It also proposed that off peak travel on public transport be given deeper discounts once Opal is rolled out in order to encourage more off-peak travel where possible, rather than peak hour travel.
Funding new infrastructure at minimal or no cost to the government
Where possible, the report has attempted to minimise how much funding the government itself will have to contribute to projects, usually by emphasising private toll roads. The WestConnex (a combination of the M4 East, M5 East, and the Inner West Bypass), for example, has a price tag of $10bn, of which $7.5bn is expected to be paid by the private sector. A cheaper way of building the M4 East, by digging up Parramatta Road itself, rather than a very expensive tunnel, to bring down the cost was also welcomed. The M2-F3 link would be built if a current private sector proposal to build it entirely with private money were to go ahead. These are achieved through a user pays system, in some cases with some government funding where necessary. But if the government can get new infrastructure built for free, paid for by the user, rather than the taxpayer, then it should get as many of these projects built as possible.
A second Sydney airport
The report recommends a new airport be built in Badgerys Creek. Right now this is at odds with the O’Farrell Government, which opposes any second airport in the Sydney basin, and also the federal Liberal and Labor Parties, which support a second airport at Wilton, which is a less optimal site than Badgerys Creek is.
XPT and High Speed Rail
Both regional rail links and high speed rail are played down by the report. Both are on the expensive ends of the scale, with limited benefits. Many XPT routes in regional NSW would probably be better served by buses, which would allow better connections with the limited budget, while high speed rail is just too expensive with its $60bn-$108bn price tag for the improved connectivity that it would provide.
Faster rail to Wollongong and Central Coast
The report calls for an improvement in rail lines to allow for an average 80km/hour link to both Gosford on the Central Coast and Wollongong, which would put them within 1 hour of the Sydney CBD. That trip currently takes 60km/hour on rail. Improvements like this are incremental and affordable, and are what would be required if high speed rail is eventually to be introduced to Australia’s East Coast.
O’Farrell sets aside $1.8b for new motorway, Sydney Morning Herald
Transport report draws mixed reactions, Sydney Morning Herald
And finally there was movement in Sydney, Daily Telegraph
New roads a fast track to the future, Daily Telegraph
Roads a priority in $30bn plan for NSW, ABC News
NSW unveils 20-year infrastructure plan, ABC Radio