Pinch points planning poser


A critical element of the NSW Infrastructure strategy is how to address Sydney’s traffic ‘pinch points’

Pinch points planning poser
Pinch points planning poser

By David Goeldner | October 4, 2012

Addressing Sydney’s choking traffic appears to dominate Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner’s agenda with this week’s release of ‘First Things First: The State Infrastructure Strategy 2012-2032’.

The long-awaited 211-page report was proposed by the O’Farrell government last year, and its Sydney focus includes significant analysis on energy water and health - but transport takes centre stage.

"For every dollar that has been wasted on abandoned or poorly scoped projects, there is a commuter whose train journey is significantly longer than it should be and a business whose road freight transport costs could have been reduced by well-directed investment," Greiner says in his foreword.

Greiner’s strategic document promotes a raft of road, rail and bus solutions to improve the increasingly congested NSW transport network.

Recommendations for future transport solutions include fixing pinch point roads within Sydney’s growing network, introducing bus priority measures along strategic corridors, and constructing an underground bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Sydney’s CBD.

The bus industry’s peak state association BusNSW has welcomed the transport priorities within the report, emphasising the importance of planning ahead with future transport strategies.

BusNSW Executive Director Darryl Mellish says continued growth of public transport promotes an overwhelming amount of benefits to the economy, improvements to congestion, the environment, health and safety, social inclusion, as well as energy security.

But Mellish also suggests the report lacks an innovative plan for the transformational change required to make public transport a more attractive choice to encourage people to get out of their cars.

"Perceptions and attitudes towards public transport need to be changed in order for new public transport networks to be adopted," Mellish says.

He says the release of the Infrastructure NSW document has predictably reinvigorated a wide variety of discussion.

"Road organisations support road projects, the Greens, Government and unions say there should be more pressure to encourage people out of cars, tourism group’s focus on better airport transport options, as well as (calls for) a second harbour crossing," Mellish observes.

As for the bus sector, Mellish says the report notes that buses are the most logical transport mode choice across a range of areas.

"Buses will remain the most appropriate public transport mode for most of Sydney over the next two decades," he says.

Greiner’s report highlights that in the short term, bus network reform offers the greatest potential for service improvements, particularly where combined with supporting rapid transit infrastructure and bus priority measures designed to deliver fast, frequent and direct services.

The report also confirms that on any average weekend, buses and coaches provide more passenger trips than the rail network, yet receive a fraction of the funding.

Mellish says this does not appear to be reflected in the priority lists.

"Increased growth is good news for bus operators, however it raises questions regarding funding priorities within transport schemes and why rail is often favoured ahead of bus projects," says Mellish.

He says the report shows an understanding of the benefits of bus and coach travel, as shown through its recommendations relating to expanding airport connections, meeting regional NSW needs and being well placed for increased student populations.

"The proposals to upgrade bridges in regional NSW are also welcomed by BusNSW, as old bridges are restricting potential for increases to mass limits for heavy vehicles," Mellish says.

He says cost benefits – time and money – of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and the advantages of road priority are recognised within the report but, surprisingly, light rail extensions are still favoured ahead of BRT on a number of corridors.

"Obviously BusNSW would like to see the BRT and bus priority initiatives expanded and more bus initiatives using the pinch point program," Mellish says.

"What does stand out when you look at the projections in this report and within the Government’s Long Term Master Plan is the lack of funding to support the bus solutions projected.

"The bus contracting environment seems to be out of step with the planning."

Released only a month after the NSW Government’s Long Term Transport Master Plan, the infrastructure paper provides a number of additional projects and priorities, presenting a predicament for Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian, according to Mellish.

"Ignoring suggestions from the bus industry for BRT to be utilised along strategic corridors, which can carry a high percentage of peak hour commuters, the Long Term Transport Master Plan restricted BRT plans to long-term solutions along log jammed routes such as the Northern Beaches corridor," Mellish says.

"BusNSW supports Infrastructure NSW’s call to elevate this priority but questions the preference for light rail along routes, such as the Western Sydney Light Rail Network, which are much more suited to express transport such as BRT," he says.

MACHIN SUPPORTS STRATEGY

Meanwhile, NSW’s peak motoring body, the NRMA, has voiced support for the proposed WestConnex Motorway highlighted in the strategy.

NRMA Motoring & Services President Wendy Machin says Sydney businesses are likely to benefit from Infrastructure NSW’s proposed WestConnex Motorway, making it easier for couriers and tradespeople to get around metropolitan Sydney.

Machin argues the $10 billion proposal, which includes finishing the M4 motorway and duplicating the M5 east tunnel, could save businesses as much as 45 minutes on trips between Sydney’s west and east and could avoid as many 52 sets of traffic lights.

Machin says the WestConnex project had the potential to benefit the NRMA’s ‘BusinessWise’ members, potentially reducing the time spent in heavy traffic and as a result cutting operational costs.

"Our BusinessWise members tell us how congestion is costing them dearly and this project could be the relief these businesses need," says Machin.

NRMA BusinessWise provides roadside assistance and motoring support to over 21,000 fleet running businesses in NSW and the ACT.

"The most recent NRMA BusinessWise congestion survey of almost 600 businesses found that almost half of the businesses surveyed were paying up to $5,000 more in operating costs per year as a result of road congestion," Machin says.

"When you have half of those surveyed making changes to the way their business operates because of worsening congestion, the need to build WestConnex is clear.

"This project will not only relieve congestion on the M4 and M5 motorways, it will also take heavy traffic and through traffic away from suburban areas."

FUNDING GREINER’S PLAN

The funding model proposed by Greiner recommends users pay $7.5 billion of the estimated $10 billion cost of WestConnex, and $2 billion of the $3 billion F6 extension.

The NSW government would shoulder $300 million each for port, airport and Parramatta pinch points and managed motorways, $300 million for ‘Bridges for the Bush’, $1 billion on regional pinch points, and $900 million for the F3 extension to Raymond Terrace.

The report backs motorway tolling as being effective for urgent projects while warning of the unpopularity of the ‘disconnect’ between such funding and actual upgrades.

It also notes that Berejiklian’s Draft Transport Master Plan proposed the introduction of distance-based tolling on motorways and recommends that focus is placed on tolling only new and upgraded roads.

"This approach will allow an incremental introduction of distance based tolling on the Sydney motorway network as it is expanded over the next 20 years," Greiner’s report notes.

WestConnex tolling will be capped for cars, as on the M7, but higher for trucks and commercial vehicles, as on the M2.

A rate is yet to be determined and ‘time of day’ tolling is rejected as a method to control congestion.

"However, some form of dynamic tolling may be considered at particular pinch points to avoid overloading the legacy road network," the report says.

Public Private Partnerships will also be part of the infrastructure building mix.

By 2032, Greiner’s strategy seeks the start of planning for a Western Sydney Regional Airport, as well as completion of a transitway from Parramatta to Epping and Macquarie Park.

The report can be downloaded at www.infrastructure.nsw.gov.au/pdfs/SIS_Report_Complete_Print.pdf







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