The future of roads in WA

“Road reform will fix national productivity,” Productivity Commission Chairman, Peter Harris AO told a CEDA audience in Perth.

“Congestion is not the biggest unmanaged problem in our urban transport needs: the fact is that real net revenue from fuel excise and state charges is going down. We either shrink our aspirations, or find new and better ways to pay for what we want,” he said.

Mr Harris outlined a model that “changes how we invest in roads and opens up opportunities to use direct pricing for road use, should we want to do that in the future”.

The model proposed is adapted from the one working well in New Zealand. It would involve either convening a national infrastructure forum or tasking COAG to provide crucial leadership that drives multi-level reforms that could take several years.

“The model brings together road user organisations, or consumers, and Commonwealth and state road authorities, or purchasers,” he said.

“It would combine all the Commonwealth and state funding to create state-level options that determine project priorities and allocate resources.

“Building consumer confidence would be critical for supporting pricing reform and funding transparency is essential.

“The key is starting with new allocation of existing funds, and adoption of a new model whereby all future pricing revenue is hypothecated to roads.

“Road reform is the least advanced of all transport modes and holds the greatest prospect for efficiency improvements: reform of road pricing and provision should be a priority.”

Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia (WA) Group Chief Executive Officer, Terry Agnew said that the RAC had moved from its position in early years to one that recognises the need for a broader mobility plan for WA that “includes rail, other modes and cycling because the road network can no longer accommodate the increasing demand.”

“We need to balance talk of expanding the road network with making better use of infrastructure we already have, and also of using new and emerging technologies more and social solutions available now but not yet fully embraced,” he said.

“In 2031, only 15 years away, seven out of 10 of Australia’s most congested roads, and the nation’s worst four, will all be in Perth, costing the city more than $16 billion a year.

“The infrastructure funding deficit in WA also includes other transport funding modes, including cycling.

“Economic modelling shows that the return on investment for cycling infrastructure produced community benefits of between 3.4 and 5.4 times the cost incurred.

“By 2031 Perth’s public transport system will be required to carry more than twice as many people as it did in 2012 and it will carry more than 70 per cent of all trips to the CBD.

“The user-pays system is already in place but today only 34 cents in every dollar collected, actually comes to WA to pay for infrastructure.”

Other presenters included:
• Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre Chief Executive, Dr Keith Hampson, who shared the centre’s ideas for optimising and promoting more efficient use of the current road network; and
• Main Roads WA Acting Director of Road Network Operations, Tony Earl, who detailed his approach to creating a world-class network operator and how it is currently addressing Perth’s traffic congestion.