2UE Afternoons with Tim Webster



26 September 2015

Topics: Sydney Road Traffic, Major Projects

Tim Webster: For many Sydney-siders, too many, an average trip to work is at a pace matched by the cyclists. You could walk quicker.

The joggers certainly jog quicker. In a bid to help unclog the country's traffic congestion problems, the Prime Minister, the new one Malcolm Turnbull is pushing for a new agenda on infrastructure, in fact making it a priority in long-term planning for our major cities. Now, it's a change from the Abbott Government's previous stance believing the Commonwealth had no place in the funding of public transport projects, although they did get involved in some, we should be fair. So what practical ideas do we need here to adopt actually, to cut down the traffic jams in Sydney? It's a very big question, it really is. Talk about some of our city's worst traffic areas and ways to fix them, it's the Major Projects Minister. And I happen to know him, he is my local MP, he's on the line. Paul Fletcher. G'day.

Paul Fletcher: Good afternoon Tim, good to be with you.

Tim Webster: Yeah you too mate, it's a big gig you've got there.

Paul Fletcher: Look it is, and as you rightly say, Prime Minister Turnbull has indicated some clear priorities. Now what I should say is of course, the Abbott Government came to power with a $50b infrastructure commitment, and there's a lot of work going on in Sydney as well as all across the country on major infrastructure projects. So in Sydney, we're obviously working with the New South Wales Government, in projects like NorthConnex, which obviously affects the part of the world that you and I live in.

So Pennant Hills Road, today is very very congested, because it connects the M1at Wahroonga, which is a freeway with the M2 at Pennant Hills. That, so NorthConnex is going to be built underneath Pennant Hills Road, it'll be a motorway standard tunnel in each direction, and that's going to bypass 21 sets of traffic lights, it'll cut travel time by 15 minutes. Now, that's an almost $3b project, $405m from the Commonwealth Government under our infrastructure programme, and $405m from the New South Wales Baird Government. And of course also, very significant private sector investments.

So the Transurban consortium, and of course their investment is going to be recovered through the tolls that they'll charge on the road. Now congestion, and relieving congestion is terribly important, first of all just because it means the less time you're sitting in traffic, means the more time you have at home, and with your family and those who are important to you, but also the more time you can be spending at work and doing other things—

Tim Webster: Being productive, yeah.

Paul Fletcher: Exactly, and that comes to the second really important factor here, which is the economic importance of infrastructure. And you talked about being productive, that's exactly right. So think about the fact that if a business can deliver its products from a delivery van in half an hour rather than an hour, the enormous benefits that that produces, multiply that by all the businesses that are out there delivering products. There is a very significant infrastructure programme underway, and as I've mentioned a $50b commitment nationally, of course one of the other major projects that the Commonwealth is working on in conjunction with the New South Wales Government is WestConnex, that's an $11.5b project.

Now, there's $1.5b from the Commonwealth, in addition to a $2b concessional loan to accelerate stage two of that. But I should emphasise the close cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and the Baird Government in New South Wales, and particularly Minister Duncan Gay, the Roads Minister. There's also the Western Sydney Roads package. That's $3.6b, of which over $2.8b is from the Commonwealth Government and that's projects like the Northern Road, which is being upgraded to be a four-lane divided road for 31km, the four-lane motorway to run from the M7 to the Northern Road. So there is a very big program of work underway, in Sydney, elsewhere in New South Wales, and all around the country.

Of course a major project for the broader New South Wales is the upgrading of the Pacific Highway to be four-lane status all the way from Hexham just north of Newcastle up the Queensland border, due to be completed by 2020. So that's an enormously significant project, being funded 80% by the Commonwealth Government, 20% by the New South Wales Government. And again, that's about congestion- reducing congestion, reducing travel times. In fact, even the work that's been done to date on the Pacific Highway produces a time saving of about one and a half hours, and when the project's completed it will be two and a half hours. I mean, that's very significant. Another real benefit is safety. The number- a dramatic reduction already in the number of accidents, and particularly fatal accidents, and that's expected to increase when the project is completed. So some very important-

Tim Webster: You bet, yeah. Now it'll be interesting to see when the North West Rail Link is actually built, and up and running, how many people get out of their cars and get onto the train, because obviously one of the keys to reducing congestion is to try to get as many people as possible onto public transport that's reliable, efficient, and not too expensive.

Paul Fletcher: Well, I think what you need to do is, is look at the overall system in its totality. Obviously rail transport is very important, road transport is very important. As you rightly said, the New South Wales Government, the Baird Government, has a very substantial upgrading program of the Sydney Metropolitan Rail Network, including the North West Link. Now again the Commonwealth is working with the Baird Government, so we have an initiative called the Asset Recycling Initiative. It's $4.2b, that's been set aside by the Commonwealth Government, and that is available to state governments, which sell assets. So as the Baird Government, for example, is going through the process in relation to the long-term lease of the poles and wires, and the Baird Government has laid out a very strong agenda of major infrastructure commitments that it is going to deliver on, using the proceeds of that long-term lease project.

Tim Webster: Okay.

Paul Fletcher: Now what we have said, is that we will allocate additional funding out of that $4.2b to state Governments that realise capital out of these projects- out of such an exercise, and then reallocate it to new infrastructure projects. And of course, one of the things the Baird Government has committed to is the Sydney Metro Rail Project which includes the second crossing. So again, what you've got is the Commonwealth Government, the Turnbull Government working very closely with the Baird Government to upgrade infrastructure, and as I've indicated there that's money that- there's Commonwealth money through that asset recycling initiative ultimately going into rail in that case.

But you're right, it's a mix of these different modes of transport, and it's all about reducing congestion, making it easier for people to get around Sydney and our other cities, and of course, regional Australia with projects such as the Pacific Highway, and about therefore making peoples' lives easier, but also the important economic benefits and productivity benefits.

Tim Webster: You bet, yeah. And finally, I've been saying this for a long time. Do you, and I imagine you do, sit down and think to yourselves, okay what's the priority here, what's the thing we need to do first. Cause we've just said, and we know it cause we live there, I mean they've been listed as two of the worst roads in the country, I'd suggest even the world, the Pacific Highway and Pennant Hills Road, so what order do you put all these things in?

Paul Fletcher: And Tim that's a really important question, cause there's always going to be more that people identify to be done than there is funds available to do immediately. So what's important is to have a long-term planning approach, and make a rational choice of what the highest-priority projects are. So Infrastructure Australia is an organisation which has been set up to develop a long-term infrastructure plan. Already this year they've released an infrastructure audit, which looked at major infrastructure round Australia, and they're due to deliver to the Government by the end of this year, and 15-year plan. So the idea is, you have a list of potential projects, that have been assessed based upon benefits that they'll deliver, and then that is, as I say a 15-year plan, obviously not all gonna be done at once, but it becomes available there as a resource for federal and state governments. And indeed the private sector to draw on, and one of the things that we would hope to see is that private sector players will also look at that list and be exploring opportunities where they can be involved in developing projects.

Tim Webster: Yeah well it's as I say, a big gig, and good luck with it, cause we all need you. Thanks for your time today.

Paul Fletcher:Thanks Tim, good to chat.