Saturday, July 9, 2011

Toll roads and free rides - CT article

In todays Canberra Times there is an interesting article by Richard Denniss, Executive director of the Australia Institute on the real cost to society of poor road planning and the knee-jerk rejection of the concept of toll roads by the ACT Government. 

The article comes a few days after the ACT Government rejected Infrastructure Australia's recommendation that the proposed Majura Parkway be a toll road when constructed. This idea was hastily rejected, because the ACT Government already knew Minister Albanese had approved the funding. 

Making Majura Parkway a toll road would be a good idea. It has received funding from the federal government because it is to be a major freight route, and it makes sense that the bulk of that freight will be going out of the Territory. Trucks using ACT roads but paying no registration, insurance or even GST on the fuel they use would be able to make their contribution to maintaining the road infrastructure by paying a toll. 

The article mainly focusses on the economic cost of roads, and places the opposition to toll roads in perspective by pointing out what we cant have due to there only being a limited pool of funding to draw from.

A few choice quotes:

"It is a rare driver who sees those new lanes and thinks that given the projected rate of population growth, freight growth and the lack of investment in public transport those enticing new lanes will soon be as congested as the one they are already in."

"As we have seen recently in the ACT, politicians don't like telling a minority of aggrieved motorists that they are unlucky enough to live on the route that gets a tollway. It wouldn't be fair, we are told, for some people to pay a toll to get to work while others do not."

"Just why a bus or light-rail ticket purchased by an ACT taxpayer should cover the cost of construction, operation and maintenance but the cost of a road trip should not is left unsaid."

"The dismal fact is that every $100 million we spend on roads is $100 million we don't spend on hospitals, we don't spend on teachers and we don't spend on light rail. The sensible question is not ''would another road be nice'' but ''of all the things we could spend money on is a new road the best idea we can think of?''

I urge you to buy todays paper and read the article in full.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Federal funding announced for Majura Parkway

With great enthusiasm local Labor MLA's and federal Labor representatives for Canberra assembled around 11AM on 7 July 2011 to announce that Infrastructure Australia would provide funding for the Majura Parkway.
Gai Brodtmann, Anthony Albanese, Katy Gallagher, Andrew Leigh, Mike Kelly and Simon Corbell looking over the Majura Parkway plans. (photo from ABC website)

Chief Minister Gallagher optimistically welcomed the news saying:
"It means this project can start in the second half of next year and can be completed on time to deal with some of the traffic demands that we've seen"  

I am glad that the funding has been provided, as this is a road that desperately needs upgrading, but I'm not convinced that it needs to be upgraded to Parkway standard. Its being upgraded based on the roads significance as a freight route out of the Airport. 

This is why the federal government have been so keen to provide funding - by making Canberra Airport a 24 hour air-freight hub, the NSW ALP avoid a politically damaging second Sydney Airport fight. 

The first announcement of the Federal funding came out via Senator Kate Lundys office with the following media statement:

    More than 40 years after the first line appeared on a map, construction of the long awaited Majura Parkway will finally start next year and be completed in 2016.

    Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese today said the project had secured the backing of the Gillard Labor Government and would receive $144 million in Federal funding, matching the ACT Government’s contribution dollar-for-dollar.

    “Recommended by Infrastructure Australia and set to be built with monies from our Building Australia Fund, the Majura Parkway will make it easier for Canberrans to get around their city as well as well as taking trucks off local streets,” said Mr Albanese.

    “Construction of this new road is an investment in Canberra’s future, with Infrastructure Australia putting its long term economic, social and environmental benefits at close to $1 billion.

    “Funding for the Majura Parkway builds on the record capital works program we initiated in our very first budget back in 2008. Together with the Gallagher Labor Government, we’re building the modern, well planned transport infrastructure befitting Canberra’s status as our nation’s capital.

    “This confirmation of funding for this project is the culmination of a persistent and passionate community campaign led by local MPs including Gai Brodtmann, Andrew Leigh, Mike Kelly and Senator Kate Lundy.”

    The Majura Parkway will be an 11.5 kilometre long duplicated road with seven bridges and three interchanges at the intersections with Fairbairn Avenue, Federal Highway and Monaro Highway.

I'm now hopeful that the same amount of effort that has been expended on road funding will now be followed by lobbying for public transport funding. 

I find it amazing that Senator Lundy can claim that there has been a 'persistent and passionate community campaign' for this road funding. I've been involved with community issues for many years, not just as Chair of  ACT Light Rail, but also as a member of the Belconnen Community Council, and I've not come across this pro-road grass roots movement before. 

The ABC also carried news of the announcement (Federal funding for Majura Parkway) and asked other local political parties on their views towards the requirement for another road, and its priority in comparison to other transport requirements.

ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja has also welcomed the news.
"We're certainly pleased there is some contribution by the Commonwealth," he said.
"I think what's really important now is that the ACT Government demonstrate that they actually can deliver it in a reasonable time frame on budget."
But the ACT Greens say the project should not go ahead.
Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan says there are better transport options.
"The Greens obviously are always happy when we get federal funding. It's just that we would have actually liked to have seen this go to something different, that is to public transport," she said.
"It's a shame that the ACT Government didn't put the same lobbying effort that they put into Majura Parkway, that they put into their bid to Infrastructure Australia, for light rail."
These two views clearly show the reality as opposed to the spin of the announcement. The ACT Government have a demonstrated inabilty to fund, build and complete major public works on time and within budget. 

Exhibit A- GDE
Exhibit B - Cotter Dam expansion
Exhibit C - Alexander Maconochie Centre (the prison)

Amanda Bresnan is also correct. Despite the Light Rail bid being the ACT Governments Primary bid for IA funding in 2009, the latest IA report to COAG contains no mention of that bid at all. It has simply been forgotten. 

One has to ask the ACT Government this question - are you serious about building light rail or simply announcing the possibility of light rail as a media spinning political tool to appear as if you are serious about improving public transport in the ACT ? 

One way the ACT Government can demonstrate their commitment to public transport is by funding a engineering study for an initial light rail route, and include that study as part of a revised bid to IA for funding

They could also demonstrate real leadership and find the funding to build an initial light rail line. One positive out of the latest ACT Budget is that they have reversed a long standing ACT Government stance on not borrowing money to build infrastructure. That this money will be used on a road is not my preference, but now that the willingness to 'borrow to build' has been shown it should be capitalised on. 

The $280 million that is estimated as the cost of the Majura Parkway is an amount that could easily fund a light rail route between Gungahlin and Civic. What would provide a better return to the people of Canberra ? 

ACT Light Rail will continue to lobby for the bid to be revisited. 

What can you do ? 

Contact your local MLA's and Federal representatives and tell them that you would like to see light rail in the ACT. Encourage them to apply the same effort to public transport funding that they have for road funding.