Commentary: Which major party is best for transport in Sydney this election?

Posted: August 14, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If this blog were voting on September 7 purely on transport issues, and had to make a choice between one of the 2 parties that will form government, then it would with reservations cast its vote for the ALP.

There are many other issues to be considered in this election, and many details as far as just transport is considered. But broadly speaking, for the upcoming election the Coalition has promised to the NSW Government more funding for transport infrastructure (albeit only for roads, not public transport) with fewer strings attached than the ALP have, while the ALP is both prepared to fund public transport and has made a slightly more solid commitment to building a much needed airport at Badgerys Creek.

Funding Commitments

Each of the major parties have made large commitments towards 3 transport infrastructure projects, all roads: the Pacific Highway upgrade on the NSW North Coast, the M2 to F3 Link in Northern Sydney, and the WestConnex freeway in Western Sydney.

The ALP has proposed 50:50 funding, shared with the NSW Government, for the Pacific Highway, which works out to $3.5bn. If the NSW Government does not match this amount then the deal is off, and there is some uncertainty over whether the NSW Government will match this amount. The Coalition has offered an 80:20 split, or $5.6bn, with the extra $2.1bn being the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link funding the ALP has previously promised (but since dropped). It is likely that the NSW Government is holding out for a possible Coalition win on September 7 before it tries to find funding for the ALP offer, but there is no guarantee that it will. If it does, then it is likely that some or most of this money will come from other parts of the transport infrastructure budget, including public transport as NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian alluded to in her bizarre comments that she welcomed news of not receiving any funding for public transport.

The M2 to F3 project is set to receive $400m of Commonwealth funding regardless of who wins next month, following a commitment by the ALP in May which was matched by the Coalition.

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it connecting to the City West Link. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

Map of the proposed WestConnex alignment showing it connecting to the City West Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: WestConnex – Sydney’s next motorway priority, Infrastructure NSW, p. 17)

For WestConnex, the ALP is offering to match the NSW Government’s current $1.8bn contribution, while the Coalition has promised $1.5bn. Both parties have made their funding conditional on the M4 East being extended to the CBD (a poor decision, as explained here), while Labor has also required a link to Port Botany and for existing portions of freeway to remain toll free. These requirements will result in a higher construction cost and a lower cost recovery, to the point where the total cost to the NSW Government could be lower if it rejected the extra funding. While the Coalition’s offer does have fewer strings attached, both parties are guilty of this.

Overall, a Coalition Government in Canberra would likely provide more funding ($7.5bn vs $5.7bn), and do so with fewer restrictions.

Funding philosophy

Tony Abbott has consistently voiced his view that the Commonwealth Government should not fund any urban rail projects. He has been given many opportunities to elaborate on this view, and each time he has stuck to his guns on it. Often, this has been based on false assumptions. For example, he initially argued that the Commonwealth had no history of funding urban rail (which was incorrect). He then clarified by arguing that no Commonwealth Government before current Labor Government won office in 2007 had a history of funding urban rail (which was also incorrect). Melbourne based transport advocate put it best when he said perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

The ALP, on the other hand, both supports the funding of public transport and has a history of doing so. While there are no current pieces of public transport infrastructure that the ALP is offering to provide funding for, such support may be essential for projects currently in the pipeline, such as the South East Light Rail or a Second Harbour Crossing.

Route of the George Street and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the George Street and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Most importantly, public transport projects are much less able to obtain private sources of funding, whereas roads are able to source all (or atleast most) of their funding from user tolls. Therefore, it is the height of ridiculousness for a Commonwealth Government, the level of government with most access to revenue raising, to rule out funding the sort of infrastructure that most needs government support to go ahead and to instead focus its funding on those projects which least need it. This is particularly the case when it’s considered that rail has a capacity 10 times as large as the equivalent amount of road space used by cars.

On the issue of funding philosophy, the ALP comes out ahead.

Second Sydney airport

Neither party is yet willing to come out and state the obvious: that Western Sydney needs an airport of its own, and that Badgerys Creek is the best site for it. Even Max Moore-Wilton, head of Sydney Airport, agrees that Sydney will need a second airport and that Badgerys is the best location. The only thing he disagrees on is the timing, claiming that Sydney Airport will have sufficient capacity until 2045.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author)

But none of this can allow politicians to ignore the fact that an airport in Badgerys Creek is an essential piece of infrastructure that will allow the much needed creation of jobs in Western Sydney, which will soon overtake Sydney’s Eastern half in population. Despite this, 200,000 Western Sydney residents currently commute into Eastern Sydney each day due to a jobs deficit, and this will only increase in coming decades if nothing is done about it. This in turn puts additional stress on transport infrastructure, which in turn has resulted in pressure to build projects such as WestConnex. Improvements to Kingsford-Smith Airport at Mascot will do nothing to ease this strain on jobs and infrastructure.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has now declared that if re-elected, he would like to see Labor Government will begin work on a second airport in its next term, but without nominating a site. Meanwhile, the Coalition has refused to nominate a site or a start date, though at the leader’s debate this past Sunday Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did promise to make a decision in his next term. Neither of these positions is ideal, although privately it looks like both parties plan to begin work soon on an airport and choose Badgerys Creek as the location. Despite this, the ALP’s commitment is slightly more concrete than the Coalition’s and Mr Albanese is a stronger advocate for Badgerys Creek than Warren Truss as Transport Minister is likely to be.

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Comments
  1. Sam says:

    The coalition ruling out funding public transport is very limiting. Agree with you that M4 East to the Sydney CBD is backward. In terms of transport little to cheer about.

  2. Ray says:

    Sorry, can’t agree. M4 East MUST connect with CBD, not as a destination, but bypass of CBD (via Cross City Tunnel) to Eastern Suburbs and Western Distributor/Harbour Bridge to Lower North Shore/Northern Beaches.

  3. Fred says:

    The problem ultimately is that over the last 10 years (probably longer), there has been alot of empty promises regarding any sort of upgrade/evolution of our roads. Being on the road day in and day out and dealing with alot of the roads and traffic issues firsthand, believe me when I say people are fed up. Whether its ALP or LNP come Sept. 7, all the talk needs to become action, and sooner rather than later.

  4. JC says:

    Pushing roads into the CBD in order to bypass it is WRONG. Connecting the M4 to the (so-called) orbital i.e. ED/Harbour Tunnel/Warringah Fwy would be provided by the M4/M5 link – and maybe in the future we could think about a M4/M2 link

  5. Ray says:

    You’ve got to be joking. Do you seriously think anyone driving from the west on the M4 is going to detour to the M5 and General Holmes Drive to gain access to the Harbour Tunnel via the Eastern Distributor. So you think it’s OK for traffic from the North and South to have a motorway standard connection to or bypassing the CBD, but not from the West?

  6. JC says:

    Getting people/stuff from west of Strathfield to north of St Leonards by taking it via the CBD (at a cost of $billions) is perverse. There has to be a better way.

  7. Ray says:

    An alternative route could be created if they built the Eastwood County Rd (the reservation has been in existence for 60 years) from Kissing Point Rd/ Silverwater Rd, Dundas to Epping Rd, North Ryde via Eastwood, which incidentally is the route of Parramatta City Council’s light rail proposal from Parramatta to Macquarie Park.

    It would provide a high standard surface arterial road link, from the M4 Motorway at Granville via James Ruse Drive, Kissing Point Rd, Eastwood County Rd and Epping Rd to the Lane Cove Tunnel and Pacific Hwy. However, it wouldn’t be to Motorway standard and it wouldn’t offer an acceptable alternative for traffic from immediately west of Strathfield.

    Nonetheless, the M4 East Motorway MUST connect with the Anzac Bridge and Western Distributor to complete the missing link in the Motorway network.

  8. Nat says:

    Tony Abbott is PM. Better city transport is almost entirely in the hands of the Senate!

  9. MK says:

    I know this is old but I disagree with Western Sydney needing an airport at all. Oh I’m sure the inner city would derive much utility from it but the jobs created by the airport will definitely not offset the pain felt by a region that will be more populated than the rest of Sydney in the decades to come.

    Most airport traffic (can’t remember the study) from locals originates from locals living in the East and North Sydney areas. Not surprising. If this is the case they should wear the noise and pollution impact of the airport – after all they benefit from it the most. In fact Western Sydney would benefit most from better trains, roads, equitable health care and other infrastructure – yet get the only piece of infrastructure that stands to punish them.

    Why is it that Western Sydney residents have to deal with:

    1) An airport with no curfew (i.e running 24/7)
    2) An airport that is planned to be bigger than Kingsford Smith with more planes running
    3) In a place where we dont get sea breeze (i.e pollution will really impact air quality out here)
    4) Near Sydney’s water catchment areas
    5) Noise – most families out here want to avoid the city and its busy lifesytle – that’s why they moved out there. For the space and quiet and community. Now they will be subjected to the worst of both worlds (none of the amentities of the city, none of the benefits of being in the country away from the heart of the city).

    The jobs numbers are laughable in the reports I’ve seen – a group of companies can match it – if this is the only justification for the pain that all the young families and the vulnerable will feel (the new housing mainly is being built out here) then yes I would have a real problem with it.

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