Monday, July 25, 2016

Infrastructure Australia confirms need for light rail in Canberra

On 22 May 2015 infrastructure Australia issued a report, in which it analysed the impact of road congestion on Australia's economy. The impact on Canberra is quite staggering. Road congestion is not only a drain on our economy and a drain on our productivity, it also denies us time we can spend with our families. In February 2016 Infrastructure Australia listed Canberras light rail on its list of national priorities.

What is the real cost of simply doing nothing? How many more lanes do we build on Northbourne or Canberra Avenue? Will those extra lanes decrease road congestion?

The drag on our economy from increasing road congestion can be quantified. It is not just the cost of building light rail, it is the cost of not building light rail and enduring increasing road congestion.

When opponents of light rail point to the construction cost, they never talk about the cost of NOT building light rail. The sole focus seems to be on light rail construction costs, not the costs of chronic road congestion and the drain on the ACT economy and the resultant loss of productivity that causes.

The full report and summaries can be downloaded from Infrastructure Australia here.

In May 2015 the Canberra Times reported on the IA report here:

"The ACT government says a new report warning of booming congestion on Canberra's roads has bolstered its case for a light rail line, with gridlock in some places to increase as much as 20 per cent by 2031.
An Infrastructure Australia audit report released on Friday showed Canberra Avenue, the airport-to-city corridor and Northbourne Avenue will all reach 70 per cent or more of morning peak capacity within 15 years.
Growing congestion will cost the territory $700 million by 2031, as Canberra Avenue reaches 72 per cent of its morning capacity on weekdays and drivers around the airport and city roads face 79 per cent capacity between 7 and 9am.
The Barton Highway-Northbourne Avenue corridor - currently expected to see tram services commencing by 2019 or 2020 - will have reached 68 per cent of capacity in morning peak times by 2031.
Other delays on Canberra's top 10 busiest roads include the William Slim Drive and Coulter Drive corridor with 72 per cent capacity traffic and more than 67 per cent capacity across each of the Belconnen Way and Barry Drive corridor; Gungahlin Drive corridor; and the area taking in Macarthur Avenue, Limestone Avenue and Fairburn Avenue.
The report found Canberra Avenue's delays will cost an estimated $1.22 million to the territory economy, followed by Barton Highway and Northbourne Avenue at $1.18 million.
Both sides of ACT politics talked up the figures on Friday. Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell said the $800 million light rail line to Gungahlin would ease congestion while Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe said all of Canberra's busiest roads needed attention, not just Northbourne Avenue.
Bus trips around Canberra will grow markedly as congestion bites, the report said. North Canberra will be the destination for 27,000 bus trips by passenger hours, up from 14,400. Belconnen will increase from 10,535 to 18,061 passenger hours.
Gungahlin bus passenger hours will boom from 4400 in 2011 to 18,800 by 2031. Growth of about 2500 hours will be recorded for south Canberra.
Despite no support from Infrastructure Australia for the $800 million tram line, Mr Corbell said it was an effective response to growing congestion.
"The report confirms doing nothing on Northbourne Avenue is not an option. People on the north side will see commute times of more than an hour to get from Gungahlin into the city and the parliamentary triangle over the next 10 to 15 years," he said.
Mr Coe the opposition believed roadworks on Northbourne Avenue were needed to give buses priority. He wouldn't rule out bus lanes replacing the median strip.
The opposition is yet to release a substantive public transport policy."

Another Canberra Times article "Audit finds Northbourne Avenue delays most expensive in ACT"

"Delays on major Canberra roads are tipped to cost $700 million by 2031 as the population of Gungahlin and Belconnen increases, according to a landmark Infrastructure Australia audit.
The audit, which was published on Friday, found the Northbourne Avenue corridor was the most expensive road in the ACT with delays costing $430,000 per lane kilometre in 2011.
But the audit warned delays on the arterial road could cost $1.1 million in 2031, second only to the Canberra Avenue corridor at an estimated $1.22 million.
"The cost of delay on greater Canberra's urban transport network in 2011 was around $0.2 billion," the report said.
"In the absence of any additional capacity – other than projects already under construction or funded – the cost of delay is projected to grow to around $0.7 billion in 2031."
Public transport use on Northbourne Avenue was also tipped to increase with the greatest population growth predicted in North Canberra, Belconnen and Gungahlin.
"Passenger loadings on Northbourne Avenue in particular are projected to rise substantially through to 2031," the report said."

"In October, Capital Metro Minister Simon Corbell​ said an increase in bus services along Northbourne Avenue was not an acceptable option for Canberra.
"We know that putting buses down Northbourne Avenue means either taking away two lanes of traffic or building a roadway down the middle of the median strip," he said.
"Neither of those options are acceptable for the city."

"Without action road travel time in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra are expected to increase by at least 20 per cent in the most congested corridors by 2031."
"Major reforms are needed to improve the way we, finance and operate infrastructure to ensure it can underpin gains in Australia's productivity and employment growth in decades ahead."

This discussion did not go unnoticed, and research is ongoing.  Although light rail had not previously been listed on teh Infrastructure Australia priority list, changing conditions saw that change. In February 2016 Infrastructure Australia listed Canberras light rail on its list of national priorities.

"A federal government agency has included Canberra's light rail project on its infrastructure priority list due to increasing congestion costs, limited public transport options and projected population growth. The project was not included on previous Infrastructure Australia lists due to concerns there was not enough traffic congestion to warrant federal funding for light rail or rapid buses. found the problems associated with Canberra's main arterial road were of national significance and demanded attention."

This upgrading in priorities was flagged in May 2015. Modelling released in late 2015 found

  • the cost of congestion on Canberra roads will double to $400 million by 2030 unless major projects are completed
  • total kilometres travelled on ACT roads could increase from 3.9 billion to 5.2 billion by 2030.
  • the cost of congestion in Canberra has increased from $54 million in 1990 to $200 million in 2015, largely due to an increasing population in Gungahlin and Belconnen.
  • nationally the total cost of congestion is tipped to reach $30 billion in 2030. 
  • the costs have increased from $12.8 billion in 2010 to $16.5 billion in 2016.

Light rail in Canberra is an important planning tool as well as a tool to resolve road congestion and increase public transport usage. The advantages of light rail over bus only transport are proven and will lead to a change in transport pattern usage and land pattern usage as Canberra matures.

Win Canberra report May 22 2015
ABC Canberra report May 22 2015

Media release from MLA Simon Corbell from May 22 2015 here.

A report into traffic congestion in Canberra has confirmed the need for light rail between City and Gungahlin, Minister for Capital Metro Simon Corbell said today. The report by Infrastructure Australia shows that business as usual will result in a loss of $700 million due to congestion each year by 2031.

The report also highlights Northbourne Avenue as the transport corridor of major concern because much of Canberra growth will happen in Gungahlin and Canberra’s north.

“This report confirms that light rail is the right choice for Canberra and it confirms that City to Gungahlin is the right place to start,” Mr Corbell said.
“Business as usual, or relying on putting more vehicles on our roads, is not a solution and will do nothing to prevent or reduce the loss of $700 million annually from the ACT economy.

“Previous modelling done by the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics had put the cost of congestion in Canberra at $200 million a year by 2020.  This new work by IA shows that congestion will get even worse than previously predicted if we don’t take action now.

“Light rail will get people out of their cars and into a comfortable, reliable, high-capacity mode of public transport that is separate from general traffic.
“Not only is light rail capable of carrying large numbers of commuters as we head towards a population of 600,000 but it can also integrate into the landscape in a way that lets us maintain the character of Northbourne Avenue as the gateway to Canberra.”

The IA report also said that public transport use was expected to increase, with passenger loadings expected to grow substantially on Northbourne Avenue by 2031.

“The Liberals have no plan to deal with this looming transport crisis except to increase congestion by putting more cars on the road,” Mr Corbell said.
“The Liberals’ blind opposition to a project that will create $1 billion in economic benefits, more than 3500 jobs and helps prevent the loss of $700 million a year from our economy is fiscally irresponsible.

“Putting more buses in among the traffic on Northbourne Avenue won’t solve the problem, even if you give them priority at traffic lights. The only way to make buses work would be to give them their own lane.  To do this you would need to remove a lane of general traffic in both directions.  This would make congestion worse for private commuters.

“A transport plan for Canberra’s future needs to make transport better for all commuters, those in their cars as well as those on public transport.  Light rail achieves this.
“Light rail will deliver transport benefits, social benefits, health benefits and significant economic benefits while changing the way we use one of our most important corridors.”

A separate report from the ANU School of Sociology by Dr David Bissell has also highlighted the social cost of congestion and extended commutes. Dr Bissell said commuter stress would lead to “tipping points” that could lead people to change their route, mode of travel or move house. He said light rail in Canberra would “change the very atmosphere of Canberra and lend a sense of vitality to the city”

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

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