Planning and creativity key to maximising infrastructure productivity

2017 will go down in the annals of history as the year Victoria started to get serious about infrastructure planning, if politics are set aside and key elements of the new Victorian Infrastructure Plan are able to be implemented.

The Plan, released in late October, is the Victorian Government’s response to Infrastructure Victoria’s ambitious 30-year set of recommendations for vital projects that must be tackled for the state to keep pace with population growth and maintain competitive and commercial advantages over larger and more populous states.

Importantly, the Plan endorsed 134 of the 137 Infrastructure Victoria recommendations, including many road and rail projects the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) and other industry groups have been advocating for years.
Chief among these are completion of the North-East Link as the priority road project for state, and completion of important public transport projects that will increase commuter rail network capacity and remove level crossings that cause traffic gridlock throughout greater Melbourne.

The benefits of these and other projects in the plan are self evident, and will be a major factor in Victoria maintaining its reputation as a business-friendly state that can sustain a growing population with jobs and associated hospital, education and housing infrastructure.

However, equally important is that a coordinated and planned execution occurs to avoid unintended congestion burdens that will increase costs and reduce productivity throughout the supply chain, and that planners and engineers apply creative solutions to encourage the efficient movement of freight on new roads.

Much of Melbourne’s CBD and inner road network are experiencing disruption from concurrent big-ticket capital works projects happening around town: Metro Tunnel is being built, level crossings are being removed, and works to widen CityLink and the Tullamarine Freeway are ahead of schedule.

While the associated spike in heavy vehicle movements thanks to these projects is great for the freight industry, they are partially offset by productivity losses that are a by-product of extra congestion. This underscores the real need for governments and future authorities tasked with executing new infrastructure projects to consult early and often with industry to identify pressure points on our transport networks, and plan accordingly to mitigate construction impacts.

At the same time, we are encouraging planners to think outside the box when it comes to moving freight throughout our cities and towns. Progress being made on the North-East Link is a great example of how the VTA has worked with industry and authorities to get significant traction on this vital project.

Soon, the North-East Link Authority will submit its business case and study of four possible corridors where the North-East Link could be built. It is important each of the four options being assessed contain innovative and creative design elements that cater to heavy vehicles travelling between Melbourne’s southeast and north that have no intention of using local roads in between.

While the VTA has previously expressed support for the 26km Option C corridor, our consultations have helped us form the view that the inclusion of design elements that safely expedites the movement of freight is arguably more important than whatever corridor is selected.

For example, dedicated freight lanes for trucks and other design and engineering methods that separate through-truck-traffic would be a great solution for distancing heavy vehicles from other road users, helping them to complete their journey faster and safer.

Heavy vehicle drivers will always use a bigger road where one is available because they are safer and more efficient. Dedicated freight lanes and other inducements to encourage trucks away from local roads are a no-brainer because they will reduce traffic congestion for all motorists, not just truck drivers.

Applying this kind of thinking to existing and future projects is vital to reduce the $19 billion that urban traffic congestion costs our economy every year. Left unchecked, the Productivity Commission reports this will blow out to over $30 billion by 2031, which will have far-reaching consequences for everyone.

On behalf of the VTA, thank you for your support over what has been a very busy and successful year. We wish you a very safe and happy Christmas, and look forward to being an active and vocal contributor to issues impacting our industry next year.

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