Infrastructure audit flags major congestion

The UDIA warns that without better infrastructure investment, the consequences could be devastating to the Australian economy

Australia's first ever comprehensive infrastructure report has found the nation is under-prepared for economic growth, expected to cause increasing congestion and bottlenecks.

Releasing late last month, the Australian Infrastructure Audit Report strategically identified the drivers of infrastructure demand and the impact they are having. It also outlined the policy, funding and delivery challenges Australia must face.

Congestion currently costs Australia $13.7 billion per annum, while the audit estimated this figure could grow to $53.3 billion by 2031. Some other key findings of the report include:

  • Australia's population expected to grow from 22.3 million in 2011 to 30.5 million in 2031, with most residing in capital cities.
  • Without action, road travel times in most capital cities will increase by at least 20% in the most congested corridors by 2031.
  • On average, demand for public transport in our capital cities is set to almost double over the next 20 years and institutional arrangements in the transport sector don't provide sufficient funding to address the current gaps.
  • The national land freight task is expected to grow by 80% between by 2031, with a large component expected to be handled by road freight vehicles.
  • Maintaining and maximising the efficiency of existing infrastructure will be critical, and in many cases will be of equal or greater importance as developing new infrastructure projects.

Infrastructure Australia chairman Mark Birrell said Australia must act now before these demand pressures affect our living standards and economic competitiveness.

“Experiences of transport networks failing to keep pace with demand, water quality standards being uneven, energy costs being too high, telecommunication services being outdated, or freight corridors being neglected are now so common that they necessitate a strategic response,” Mr Birrell said.

“Without a total increase in both public and private funding of infrastructure, and market reforms to strengthen the transport and water sectors, we won't have the infrastructure that a growing population and our globally-focussed economy deserve."

The audit proposes a number of major changes to the way we plan and deliver new infrastructure. Key recommendations were improving governance and modernising regulatory settings so we get the best out of our infrastructure; boosting transparency and project assessment processes to enable informed choices; and greater sharing of information on infrastructure performance and outcomes to improve long-term decision making.

Meanwhile, the Urban Development Institute of Australia has said the results of the audit should serve as a warning to government to start improving investment in urban infrastructure, or face the consequences.

UDIA National President Cameron Shephard said the projected cost of congestion would be "disastrous for the Australian economy".

“New infrastructure proposals should be selected based on their economic merits, and subject to rigorous cost benefit analysis to ensure that tax payers get good value for money,” Mr Shephard said.

“This audit must be the first step in a concerted effort by government at all levels to plan for and fund the infrastructure Australia’s cities need to grow and prosper.”

Infrastructure Australia will be consulting with the public, governments, business and peak bodies on the Audit as it prepares the Australian Infrastructure Plan.

“Australia has handled growth and demands like this before and I am optimistic that we can do so again. The challenge is managing our success so that infrastructure delivers the economic benefits and living standards Australians expect,” said Mr Birrell.

The government's 15-year infrastructure plan will make recommendations on project investment priorities, with a reinvigorated 'Infrastructure Priority List', and specific areas for policy reform.

The government is now accepting public submissions for its 15-year infrastructure plan, to hear recommendations of project investment priorities and potential policy reform. The report and information on the submission process is available on the Infrastructure Australia website.