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The NSW government is considering distance-based road tolls, higher parking charges and asking trucking companies to help pay for highway upgrades as part of a $100 billion transport blueprint that includes new motorways and a second harbour rail crossing in Sydney.
The draft 20-year transport master plan, released yesterday, includes dozens of major projects but many have been listed as medium- or long-term priorities that are unlikely to be started until at least a second or third term of government.
Premier Barry O’Farrell and Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian would not commit to any of the projects, apart from the $8.5 billion North West Rail Link in Sydney and a second harbour rail crossing as part of a new CBD rail line.
The underground rail crossing, to complement the Harbour Bridge train line, is expected to cost well over $10 billion and is not supported by the government’s top infrastructure adviser, former Liberal premier Nick Greiner.
The 368-page plan identifies four road projects to complete the “missing links” in Sydney’s motorway network, including the M4 motorway extension between Strathfield in the inner west and the Port Botany-Sydney Airport precinct in the east.
The project would include a tunnel under the inner west and is identified as a long-term priority over the next 10 to 20 years.
Widening the M5 East, part of the south-west motorway around the airport and ports precinct, and linking the F3 to M2 in northern Sydney are medium-term priorities over the next five to 10 years. An F6 freeway to the south of Sydney is a long-term plan.
Mr O’Farrell said Infrastructure NSW, which is chaired by Mr Greiner and is due to complete a 20-year state infrastructure plan later this month, would provide advice about which motorway project should receive priority funding.
The government has committed to start construction of one of the motorways in its first term.
The draft plan says the government will build light rail through the Sydney CBD and into the eastern suburbs “subject to ongoing feasibility work”.
It will also investigate rapid bus corridors in Sydney’s growing north-west and south-west.
The Labor opposition criticised the plan for being light on detail about funding for projects and about when they would be started and finished.
The master plan identifies a number of approaches to funding projects, including distance-based tolling which would charge motorists a “standardised cents-per-kilometre charge” across the Sydney motorway network.
Mr O’Farrell said distance-based tolling “is something that we’d like to achieve, but particularly if we can achieve it in a cost-neutral basis” for road users.
The plan also flags congestion charging in the longer term, but Mr O’Farrell insisted this would be limited to trucks to encourage them to come into cities outside of peak times.
“What you could see is variable cheaper tolls for trucks outside of peak periods,” Mr O’Farrell said.
The government has repeatedly ruled out a congestion charge for all motorists, but the plan says it will consider higher parking charges in the Sydney CBD to encourage people to shift to public transport.
Roads Minister Duncan Gay said that this had been a policy of successive state governments.
“The best money that I can spend on changing congestion is on parking at railway stations and bus stations,” he said.
Ms Berejiklian said that increasing the cost of parking “has got to be viewed in the context of providing better public transport”.
The government will trial a charge on users of “high productivity vehicles” – such as freight companies using large B-triple trucks to transport goods more efficiently than the common B-doubles – to help fund upgrades to the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne.
“We will seek to work with the Victorian government on a potential HPV route from Sydney to Melbourne,” the plan says.
Business groups welcomed the government’s commitment to transport planning beyond the electoral cycle, but expressed concern about how projects would be funded.
Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd said business expected the final plan – due at the end of the year – would set out a strategy for funding and prioritising the projects.
Privatising assets, borrowing funds and user-pays charges should be considered to get the projects built, Mr Shepherd said.
NSW Business Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright said: “Transport is still very much seen by the community through the prism of the last government’s grandiose transport promises.
“It will only be by delivering a realistic suite of transport plans that community faith in transport promises will be restored.”
Submissions on the draft plan close on October 26.
The Australian Financial Review
This article first appeared on afr.com
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