The next infrastructure boom
Today, Infrastructure Australia (IA) released their 2020 Infrastructure Priority List. It is a well-researched list and gives us an opportunity to reflect on how Sydney is delivering on infrastructure and where we go from here.
NSW is in the midst of a $90bn infrastructure spend, with the majority allocated to transport projects. It is an extraordinary effort, such that Sydney is in the middle of one of the biggest infrastructure booms in the OECD. The investment being made is the envy of cities all over the world.
However, the IA list is a reminder that we are nowhere near finished. In spite of everything that’s been accomplished, it is essential for the long-term viability of Sydney that we find a way to keep infrastructure momentum going.
Benefits of smart mobility investments
If we are smart about it and we pick the right projects, transport infrastructure does a number of things:
- Provides people with better access to jobs.
- Boosts the economy.
- Saves households money.
- Makes neighbourhoods more liveable.
- Reduces greenhouse gases.
Priorities for investment
Our top-priority projects, which are ready for immediate investment, include:
- Sydney Metro Greater West connecting Western Sydney Airport and St Marys
- Completing the Sydney Metro City and South-Westfrom Chatswood to Bankstown.
- Sydney Metro Westfrom Sydney to Parramatta.
- More Trains, More Services– upgrades to the existing system including new rolling stock and new signalling that will allow the system to carry more passengers.
The next set of projects should include:
- Building out the transport network connecting Parramatta, including an upgraded mode of transport to Sydney Olympic Park and Metro connecting south to Kogarah and north to Epping.
- Expansion of Sydney Light Rail to Green Square.
- Fast and effective rail to Newcastle and Wollongong.
- New public transport options for Parramatta Road and Victoria Road.
- Delivering a coherent and ubiquitous cycling network connecting our suburbs to Sydney and Parramatta CBDs.
The next rounds of investment will get tougher in some ways, because the community may get tired of the disruption and because some of the obvious funding sources have been used. Budgetary pressure is also being felt at a state and federal level. Moreover, just because a project “stacks up” in a business case doesn’t mean it’s a good project. We need to use good judgement about the way we want the city to evolve over time.
For the Committee for Sydney, this means increasing the mode share of public, shared and active transport. There is no escaping the reality that we must change how people travel across our city if we want to achieve a 30-minute city while growing our population towards 8 million. This means evolving our current model in a number of ways:
Prioritise public transport expansion.We cannot shift mode share without also shifting what type of transport options we build.
- Invest in the core of the system.The recent explosion in patronage on our system shows there is enormous latent demand for public transport. Increasing the number of services, while improving speeds, is one of the most cost-effective ways we have of providing more people with a reliable way to travel without having to drive.
- Give attention to walking and cycling.Active transport is easy to overlook, and indeed has seen substantial underinvestment in Sydney. Walking and cycling is free – and has few operating costs for government – all while delivering huge co-benefits for public health and liveability.
- Think about how people get to and from the transit lines. In some cases, the best way to increase ridership is to improve the pedestrian environment around stations. But not everyone will live within walking distance of a train station. On-demand transport, bikes and scooters, and the trusty bus will be crucial to high utilisation of the rapid transport network.
- Contain operating costs.As public transport ridership grows, so do operating costs. TfNSW needs a long-term strategy that looks at both the cost and revenue side, otherwise every new capital investment means a growing operating deficit.
- Develop new capital funding sources.The current model for funding infrastructure through a combination of general revenue and asset recycling has worked very well. But we can do more if we supplement this model with new funding sources. One obvious place to look is road user charging, although there are other good options as well.
The IA list showcases some potentially ground-breaking investments for Sydney. The impetus now must be to deliver these projects and many more beyond.