Time to get the country moving

Opinion Piece


21 October 2015

Daily Telegraph

As we plan Australia's infrastructure needs for the 21st century, there is much we can learn from the man who gave us the Harbour Bridge, Dr JJC Bradfield.

Bradfield had a vision: that this key transport facility would shape a city's growth—making it a better place to live and work.

Today the Turnbull Government is working to deliver another key transport facility, Western Sydney Airport, which will stimulate the growth of Western Sydney for many decades to come.

As Bradfield's career reminds us, we need to take a perspective of decades, even centuries, when it comes to planning infrastructure.

He first publicly called for a Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1903; it was 1924 before construction began and 1932 before it opened.

The Bridge was just one stage in a continuing, multi-decade project.  Later there were freeway connections at each end, and the rail lines on the Bridge connected into the City Circle which Bradfield also designed—and which was only completed in the nineteen fifties.

Similarly the Western Sydney Airport is part of a project with many stages. Already work is underway on the $3.6 billion Western Sydney Roads Package, with upgrades to the Narellan Road and Bringelly Road. By the time the airport opens there will be a new motorway, the M12, which connects the airport to the M7.

The airport is also designed to be rail ready.  As part of its design there will be tunnels excavated in readiness for train tracks, and a ‘station box’—an excavated area where the airport train station can be built.

This will allow for the NSW Government to extend the suburban rail network to connect to the airport—which is expected to occur as airport passenger levels rise in the years after the airport first opens.

Bradfield also shows us the importance of detailed planning—and being ready to vary the plan based on expert advice.

Bradfield originally planned for the Bridge to have a cantilever design; but following a trip to the US and Europe in the early 1920's where he met many experts, he revised the plan to the arch we are all so familiar with.

The Turnbull government has prepared a detailed Draft Airport Plan for Western Sydney Airport, which was released this week.

Of course, the design will likely evolve over the multi-decade life of the airport, but the plan lays out key elements including the planned airport opening in 1925 and provision for a second runway by around 2050.

One more thing we can learn from Bradfield's career—infrastructure needs to be paid for! To pay for the Harbour Bridge, there was a toll on cars crossing the Bridge.

Today, the Turnbull Government is spending $50 billion on infrastructure projects all around the country. In NSW, as well as the Western Sydney Airport, this includes NorthConnex, WestConnex and our $5.6 billion Pacific Highway upgrade.

This package is possible because of careful economic management—with a clear plan for how this spending is to be funded.

By contrast, some politicians are making sweeping calls—for example, for a rail connection to be built before Western Sydney Airport opens—without any idea where the money will come from.

JJC Bradfield was a visionary—but he was also a practical man who did not just dream, he delivered.

Similarly, the Turnbull Government is working to deliver vital transport infrastructure such as the Western Sydney Airport—which will benefit generations of Australians just as Bradfield's work did.

Paul Fletcher is the Member for Bradfield (the seat named after the man who built the bridge) and Minister for Major Projects in the Turnbull Government