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Motorways for the masses

With the approach of a Federal Election, ambitious metropolitan road projects are in the spotlight. Both major parties are offering federal funding to address worsening urban congestion issues as Australia’s cities continue to grow. The Liberal National Party coalition has promised to support the construction/upgrade of three metropolitan limited access roads to connect to existing motorways in our largest cities. And the Prime Minister has announced further funding support for the WestConnex project in Sydney, contingent upon it providing better freight links to Port Botany and a toll-free M4 connection with the city. 
Following on from previous commitments, the 2013 LNP policy ‘Our Plan – Real Solutions for all Australians’ commits the Coalition to contribute $1.5 billion to the M4 East motorway (WestConnex project), $1.5 billion for the East-West Link road tunnel in Melbourne and for improvements to the Geelong Princes Highway, and $1 billion towards the upgrade of the Gateway Motorway in Brisbane and development of the Toowoomba Range crossing. The Federal Government already has some commitments to these projects.

Urban Motorway Projects
The NSW government announced the WestConnex project as a merger and linkage of the earlier M4 East and M5 duplication projects. WestConnex is a 33 kilometre (km) motorway proposal to link Sydney's west with the airport and the Port Botany precinct. This Sydney project involves an eastwards extension of the M4 from Strathfield, where it currently terminates, through to Glebe, and then turning around south and westwards to link up with the M5 duplication. It is a NSW Government commitment in response to recommendations from Infrastructure NSW in its State Infrastructure Strategy of October 2012. Costing estimates are about $10 billion with construction over several stages and the possibility of distance-based tolling for its urban freight and motor passenger vehicle users. The project sits along with proposed improvements to public and freight transport systems in the Sydney metropolitan area. The NSW Government sought public reaction but responses were mixed. However, the Australian Government agreed to provide an initial instalment of up to $30 million to advance the WestConnex M4 project.

The Melbourne East West Link proposal is an 18km road connection between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road. It includes two sections: the 8km Eastern - Eastern Freeway to the Port of Melbourne; and the 10km Western (WestLink) - Port of Melbourne to the Western Ring Road. Various proposals have existed for some years, with both support and criticism and some argument as to whether it should be a tolled facility or built only below or above ground. Perhaps particularly contentious is the intention to tunnel beneath the inner Melbourne suburbs of Fitzroy and Carlton. On 1 May 2012, the Victorian Government announced $15 million to commence planning work for the East West Link, along with $50 million for a Melbourne Metro project corridor for a proposed nine-kilometre rail tunnel and five new stations. The Metro proposal is one of a series of Department of Transport plans and has been allocated $40 million in Federal funds.

In Brisbane, the Gateway Motorway provides an eastern city bypass as it runs between the Bruce Highway and the Pacific and Logan Motorways and over newly duplicated Brisbane River bridges. Operated by Queensland Motorways, the tolled route is the subject of a current upgrade. However the section known as the Gateway Motorway North remains a state-controlled road for which the Queensland Government has called for specific Federal funding to widen the motorway to six lanes from Nudgee to the Deagon Deviation. The Department of Transport and Main Roads released a draft plan of the $1.3 billion motorway upgrade in June 2011, while the Federal Government has previously committed $125 million towards the work. Brisbane is also studying a Metro system, further rail and bus-way upgrades and other transport corridor projects.

In Perth, recent urban transport emphasis has been on metro and light public rail systems while the State Opposition has proposed a circumferential Metronet rail and road system. The Gateway WA: Perth Airport and Freight Access Project is the largest road infrastructure project ever undertaken by Main Roads WA and focuses on highways around Perth Airport. The Federal and State Governments have committed to invest around $1 billion to construct the Gateway WA project with over $680 million of this funding provided by the Federal Government under its Regional Infrastructure Fund and Nation Building Program. Construction may commence shortly but any tolling is unclear.

In Adelaide, the $842 million South Road Superway scheme is stage two of the Adelaide North South Transport Corridor upgrade and will deliver a 5km motorway when construction concludes later this year. The Australian Government has committed $500 million to upgrade linkages to South Road in Adelaide. A series of significant public transport projects are also under construction or consideration.