Transcript of Interview: 891 ABC Adelaide Drive with Michael Smyth



29 April 2015


Michael Smyth: Now to the latest on one of Adelaide's major infrastructure projects—the continual upgrade of South Road, particularly the section between Torrens Road and the River Torrens. This is a project costing almost $900 million. Joining us now, the Federal Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and the Member for Mayo in the Adelaide Hills, Jamie Briggs. Good to talk to you, Minister.

Jamie Briggs: Michael, good to speak to you.

Michael Smyth: Sounds like you managed to squeeze a better deal than expected out of the contractors on this?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we've got the same amount of money allocated, about 600 meters additional of lowered road and one extra intersection which is now grade-separated, which will increase the benefit to traffic; particularly the freight traffic. It's a very heavily used area of South Road by freight vehicles, so it increases the economic benefit of the spend. It is something we're seeing right across the country at the moment with projects, because obviously we've had the end of a very heavy phase of private sector investment in the mining sector, and there are a lot of contractors looking for work, and therefore it's a very competitive market. The state governments through their tendering processes were able to secure this additional benefit for the same price. So we're very pleased, and it was great to get the contractors announced today. York Civil, a South Australian company, is lead contractor in this. Along with Leighton, so it will be a lot of jobs for South Australians and that is part of our commitment to upgrade the entire north-south corridor as quickly as we possibly can.

Michael Smyth: Well, given that economic picture that you just painted for us, and the downturn in the mining sector, what about this call today from the Civil Contractors Federation saying that the upgrade of the entire road should be completed in five years rather than ten—they're concerned that South Australia may not be here in ten years if we wait that long.

Jamie Briggs: Well, Phil Sutherland is a very fierce advocate for his industry and I appreciate that he's energetic about what we need to do, and look; we want to spend more money on more projects in South Road. Stephen Mullighan and I have been discussing just that—we paid, the Federal Government that is, for a study on the top end of the South Road, the northern connector, the proposed northern connector project. So, there are quite a number of projects still remaining to get the entire corridor upgraded as we want. I appreciate the eagerness of the civil contractors to get a pipeline of projects happening, and we've just got to work out a way with the State Government of funding what are not cheap projects, Michael, these things do cost a lot. As you see with the Torrens project, nearly $900 million, over $600 million on the Darlington project, and the additional projects will also cost a lot of money.

Michael Smyth: 5:21, Jamie Briggs is with us, the Assistant Federal Minister for Infrastructure, we're talking about the refashioned plans for a section of the Torrens to Torrens upgrade of South Road, which is really going to mean that a tunnel or a lower section of roadway will bypass a set of lights at Hawker Street. Former Labor Senator Chris Schott has given us a buzz, you've got a question for the Minister?

Caller Chris: Yes, well, first of all, I'm fully in favour of the upgrade of the whole of the South Road, all the way through the metropolitan area. One of the questions I have is, I notice in the plan there are still a set of traffic lights at Torrens Road and at Regency Road between the elevated highway which is now working very well, and the Torrens to Torrens. Is there any plan to put an over or underpass at Regency Road intersection, which is a big intersection, and also Torrens Road itself, so that when you get on the super freeway way up in Salisbury you can drive all the way to Torrens River with no traffic lights. Is there any plan to put that as a high priority between the Federal and the State Government?

Michael Smyth: Chris Schott, thank you, Jamie Briggs, can you answer that one for us?

Jamie Briggs: Yeah, look, it's a good question, Chris, and it gets back to what I was referring to—as I said before—we paid last year for a study which has been completed and we're just working now with the State Government on releasing that study in the coming month or so. It'll show that there are additional projects, five of which are projects which need to be done, and that is obviously one of those projects. There's obviously work that needs to be done around the Castle Plaza area, which people would obviously recognise. So, the Darlington project will upgrade that section and then there'll be another section which needs to be done—that intersection needs to be upgraded. There is still quite a bit of work to do, and it is many billions of dollars still to be spent to upgrade all of those sections. We are looking at the priority; we also think the greenfield investment in the Northern Connector is important to look at as well. There is still lots to do, there's no question about that. Which for Australian contractors is good news, but we need to work out with the state government an appropriate funding mechanism to ensure that we can keep these projects going in a pipeline which is contracted. Regular access to work, doesn't interrupt South Road to the extent where it is a complete car park for a long period of time. We are trying to look at the priorities with the state government and invest more money. We are eager to invest more money on South Road.

Michael Smyth: Jamie Briggs, who has the job of buying up all the houses along South Road? Because as I understand it, there are still something like 15 properties to be acquired. And I heard of one guy today who was offered something like 380,000 for his house, said it wasn't enough. Another offer came back at 550, but he's still refusing to budge. What do you do in a situation like that?

Jamie Briggs: The state government manages the actual project, so we're—if you like—a lender of last resort. The state government manages the building of the project and the preparation of the site and they've done most of that work. There's been a lot of properties, both commercial and residential along that corridor purchased and there are some remaining. And there are opportunities for people to negotiate with the state government. In the end, the state government has the capacity to compulsorily acquire. Now, Stephen Mullighan indicated today that that is something they don't like to do. They like to work with the owners of the properties to come to a reasonable conclusion. Obviously it's a difficult time for anyone who owns a property, has lived there for some time or run a business there for some time, but in the end, if we're talking about getting the economic benefit we need for the state, unfortunately there is going to need to be some of these properties acquired along that corridor.