Truss unveils Coalition bridge renewal program

Coalition vows $600 million program to fix decaying bridges to improve freight productivity

By Brad Gardner | June 17, 2010

A Coalition government will establish a $600 million program to fund upgrades to Australia’s bridge network in a move the trucking lobby claims will boost freight productivity.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss today announced the multi-million dollar commitment as part of the Coalition’s policy platform for this year’s federal election.

Labelling it the Bridges Renewal Program, Truss says $300 million over four years from federal coffers will be matched by state and local governments to fund investment in small road bridges across Australia.

Speaking at the National General Assembly of Local Government, Truss told the conference many of the 30,000 bridges are in decay and are usually on secondary freight routes and in regional Australia.

"Some councils have been unable to afford maintenance and upgrades necessary to keep these bridges open. Some have load limits. Sometimes people simply have to find another route," Truss says.

Money will be allocated on a competitive application basis, Truss says, with upgrades prioritised according to economic return and community needs.

Australian Trucking Association Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says bridge upgrades are the key to unlocking access for higher productivity vehicles that reduce congestion.

"A program such as the one announced by the Coalition today, will help local governments access the funds they need to improve local roads across the country, giving the trucking industry access to new, more efficient and safer routes," St Clair says.

He says the industry has been denied access to bridges because councils do not have the funds to carry out upgrades or repairs.

"To protect their assets many councils have been forced to close the bridges, apply load limits or restrict the movement of trucks on the routes where small bridges are located," St Clair says.

"That means truck drivers have to find alternative and often inefficient routes, to deliver the goods local communities demand."

Truss says the money will come from the Nation Building Program, which was formerly known as AusLink.

"It will be part of the AusLink programs and further details will be released closer to the election," he says.

However, all the money under the program has been allocated up to the 2013-2014 financial year, meaning funds will need to be diverted from existing projects.

Truss earlier this year also promised $300 million to build 500 rest areas over 10 years, with money also coming from the Nation Building Program.

The office of opposition spokesman on finance and debt reduction Andrew Robb last month told ATN it would need to "reprioritise" funding to keep the rest area commitment.

"We would obviously consider all the programs as a whole," a spokesman for Robb says.

He did not mention specific projects that may be scrapped, saying details will be released in the coming months.

During his speech, Truss committed to maintaining the Roads to Recovery program, which is responsible for funding road projects.

He claims comments from Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese that the Coalition is planning to cut spending are untrue.

Truss says money will not be cut, shifted or diverted from Roads to Recovery for other projects.

"The Coalition supports Roads to Recovery, lock, stock and barrel, and always has," he says.

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