Cut road freight funding in favour of public transport: report

By: Jason Whittaker

The Federal Government must divert Auslink funds into public transport initiatives rather than expanding freeways and road freight routes to

The Federal Government must divert Auslink funds into public transport initiatives rather than expanding freeways and road freight routes to address climate change, according to a report released by the University of Melbourne.

The report, titled 'Who decides infrastructure priorities?: Federal funding for urban transport in the time of climate change', calls for the Government to stop pouring billions into new freeways in light of economist Ross Garnaut’s findings that Australia needs to commit to greater emissions reductions than previously thought.

According to the report’s author, Professor Bill Russell, building freeways to alleviate bottlenecks will not ease traffic congestion, but instead increase greenhouse gas emissions.

"Construction of urban freeways is a major factor in the rapid growth in urban car use since 1970, and freeways built to solve freight bottlenecks will mean more passenger cars travel," he says.

As such, the report recommends money being spent on upgrading freeways and other road freight routes under the Auslink initiative to be cut back in favour of funds for urban public transport and rail freight projects.

Currently, Auslink does not fund public transport initiatives — a policy championed by the previous Howard Government — while rail freight receives significantly less in funding than its road counterpart.

"Surely it is time for emphasis to be placed on investment in transport options that are more sustainable than freeways," Russell says.

In order to build sustainable infrastructure projects, the report wants major transport proposals subjected to rigorous independent scrutiny based on their economic, social and environmental impacts, with particular attention paid to whether projects such as freeway expansions will reduce greenhouse emissions or hinder potential housing developments.

Furthermore, it calls for the bidding process of Auslink to be scrapped in favour of "a more strategic national programming process following the completion of the infrastructure audit", which is to be conducted by the newly-established Infrastructure Australia later this year.

Russell also took aim at transport industry lobby groups, accusing the Australian Council for Infrastructure Development of releasing papers that are "one-sided and rather breathless accounts" of why more money should be spent on freight routes.

"They provide no balanced analysis of positive and negative features," Russell says.

In order to counter this, Infrastructure Australia must include, among its nine members, those "with expertise in transport responses to climate change", according to the report.

The report also questions the funding process, saying there is limited prior evaluation of proposals, which leads to a lack of accountability on the part of the Government.

According to Russell, most transport infrastructure projects are evaluated based on a "pork-barrelling" approach as opposed to a merit-based one.

The report lists instances where the Labor and Liberal parties during the 2007 election campaign "cherry-picked" proposals "based on the electoral benefit rather than the rationally assessed priority of the project".

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